Monday, September 23, 2013

The Good Deeds of Women Seldom Live After Them, 1878

Annie Cook, Born 1840
Died of Yellow Fever 1878
A nineteenth century Mary Magdelene
Who gave her life while trying to
Save the lives of others.
Erected by Mr and Mrs J.D Taylor and the Brothers of The Sacred Heart, S.C.
April 5 1979

Madame Annie Cook
Memphis City Directory for 1876
Her real name was discarded long ago, even before Annie Cook made Memphis her home. What we do know is she was an attractive German woman who became a prostitute and Madam, which doesn't seem to have been illegal in Memphis at the time.  By all accounts she also had the proverbial "heart of gold" as the saying goes and was always helping others in need.

Annie Cook opened her home and nursed many Memphians during the 1873 and 1878 yellow fever epidemics until she contracted the disease herself in September, 1878.  When Annie became ill it was reported in the Public Ledger that Miss Lorena Mead nursed her to the last.  Annie died on Wednesday morning at 5am, September 11, 1878 and was interred that same day at Elmwood Cemetery.  She was originally interred in the Chapel Hill Section of the Cemetery but was later removed to the Howard Association section.  

Public Ledger
September 11 1878
Although Annie Cook was a sinner, a "mis-guided woman", and owned a house of "ill-fame" her exceeding kindness and most especially her compassion and heroism during the yellow fever epidemics gave her fame and recognition from people who otherwise would not have given her the time of day.  The Ledger said her name would "be linked with the martyrs of 1878" and it is but it's the letter from the "Christian Women of Louisville" that absolves Annie of her sins

The "Christian Women" of Louisville, appreciated the self-sacrifice and generosity of Annie Cook, the cyprian**, who consecrated her life and property to the sick of this city, gladdened her heart by a recognition of her christian heroism that must have gone far to reconcile her to the death she met so bravely. They sent her this note, addressed to "Madame Anna Cook, Mansion House, Memphis, Tenn.:

Louisville, August 28, 1878
Dear Madame--This mornings' paper announces that you have opened your house to the sick of Memphis, and that you are ministering to their wants personally.  An act so generous, so benevolent, so utterly unselfish, should not be passed over without notice.  History may not record this good deed, for the good deeds of women seldom live after them, but every heart in the whole country responds with affectionate gratitude to the noble example you have set for christian men and women.  God speed you, dear madame, and, when the end comes, may the light of a better word guide you to a home beyond.  From the

No doubt this affectionate and really christian recognition of her good deeds lighted Annie Cook's pathway to the grave.
**Cyprian - a wanton person, a prostitute
Originally posted in the Memphis Daily Appeal Sept. 22 1878

The following report of her death in the Weekly Bazoo, Sedalia MO, on September 24 1878 is probably the most sensational report of the "pariah" with a heart in her "gilded palace of sin".

No, she was not an angel.  She was merely a woman.  Indeed, society denied her even that appellation, for she was a pariah-an outcast.  Oh, yes, she was pure once; but she fell, like thousands of others.  And such are beyond the pale that rears its impenetrable barrier between the impure and those who dwell secure within its protection.  But she had a heart, did this Annie Cook--wounded and crushed as it was, it overflowed with sympathy for the suffering, with charity for the erring, with generosity for the unfortunate.  They say no appeal to her for help was ever neglected, and often she left her gilded palace of sin to minister in person to some poor unfortunate who lay dying, poverty-stricken and neglected.  her purse supplied their wants, here were the hands that bathed their fevered brows and held the cooling drink to their parched lips. And when the dread summons came to bear the spirit home, she looked a message into the eyes of the dying to take with them in her behalf.

What was it?

Who can tell what rose in the heart of that Magdalen that her lips dare not tell?  Never mind, it was understood, and let us hope that God, in the infinitude of His mercy, granted the prayer of that weak woman sinner.

Well, the fever came, and the panic followed. The houses were deserted and each outgoing train was crowded.  Men and women fled for their lives; the most sacred ties were broken; brothers fled from sisters, husbands left their wives and children, and children deserted their parents.

Nothing was left but sickness, suffering, want, misery and death.

Then this woman called her gay companions around her and bade them begone.  She stripped palace of its magnificence and gave the proceeds to those who were burdened with disease and want.  Throwing wide open the doors of her mansion, she tendered the keys to the Howards its use as a hospital.  Then descending those steps for the last time, she began the work of mercy to which she dedicated her life.  From house to house she went on her mission of love.  By the bedside of the sick and dying she was ever found--furnishing the necessaries of life, nursing the sick with the tenderness of a mother, writing messages for those who ne'er again should see the dear ones addressed, easing the pangs of the dying, and reverently and tenderly shrouding the dead.  She labored with supernatural strength, and although the warning finger of Death rose up before her, she never faltered.  The convalescent were grateful, the sick hailed her presence with joy, and the dying blessed her as they passed away.  At last she, too, fell before the Destroyer's arm, and silently, willingly, aye gladly, followed those who had gone before.

Who she was, none ever knew.  True, her name was Annie Cook--at least people called her that; but the secret of her existence died and was buried with her.

Now tell us, ye world of prim morality and cold, prudential modesty--is there one slight chance of Heaven for this poor, betrayed woman!  Will those pearly gates be closed upon this repentant Magdalen, and yet open to those selfish, hollow-hearted creatures who left their kith and kin to perish in poverty and disease?

No, she was not an angel.  She was a pariah and an outcast; but from the simple lights before us, if ever a sinner was made worthy by a noble atonement, it was Annie Cook.


Many years ago there came to this city, from Ohio, a handsome German girl, who found employment with a family near First and Green streets.  Her expressive language, personal beauty, rich voice and magnetic person made her a general favorite.  When she saw any one suffering her eyes would grow soft with a beautiful, mysterious radiance, as she extended a helping hand.  She seemed in good spirits at times, yet there was something about her general demeanor that told that her poor soul was groaning beneath the burden of a mighty sin--really a calamity, and known to the laws of society as a crime.  Society is cold and heartless, and rules with an iron rod.

This was twenty-five years ago.  The fair young girl grew up to womanhood, and as a woman of the town, her name was known as Annie Cook.  Her real name remains as much of a mystery here as the nameless sin that drove her from the scenes of happy, joyful childhood. At one time she might have returned, like the dove of the ark, had it not been for the frowning world.

The leading characteristic of her life seemed to be to help the suffering.  When she lived in this city, on Madison street, a poor family became helpless with the small-pox, and this woman was found at their bed-side administering to their wants.  Notwithstanding her life, she endeared herself to many of the people here. Shortly after the war she became dissatisfied and went to Memphis.  Nothing more was heard of her until the yellow fever scourge of 1873.  She then threw her house open, that had been dedicated, to shame, volunteered as a nurse, and watched over the dead and dying like a ministering angel.

The generous public approved silently, of course, of her noble deeds, and she lived on through the years of sorrow, the same strange, mysterious woman, until the breaking out of the present scourge, when she again discharged her women, offered her house as a hospital and herself as a nurse.  Yesterday the wires whispered the news of her death.  Poor, ill-starred, misguided woman!  Whatever her sins might have been, she has laid them all down with her life, and may we not hope that her chances for a life of happiness "up there" are secured by an earnest repentance and a self-sacrifice that cost her life.  Mary Magdalen became the most devoted of His followers.  And now that Annie Cook's life has ended in sacrifice for others, there is hope that it may be said to her, "For inasmuch as you did it to the least of these, ye did it also unto Me."
Reprinted from the Louisville Evening News in the Memphis Public Ledger, Sept. 23 1878

As for Lorena Meade, Annie's nurse, she was born in Louisiana about 1844.  She appears in the 1880 Memphis Census as the owner of a "boardinghouse" and has several girls in residence.  She also appears in the 1883 Memphis City Directory as the Madame of her own house in Memphis at the same address on Causey street where she was living in 1880. By 1927 she is living in Iberville and was a seamstress.  


  1. Great article on Annie Cook. Find her real name and I'll salute you! :-)