“Mary Magdalene of Memphis”

Her real name is unknown.  In life she was notorious for owning an upscale bordello in Memphis. When she died at age 38,  the Memphis Appeal eulogized her  as “the Mary Magdalene of Memphis.”

The woman known as Annie Cook was an attractive woman, probably of German descent. Born in 1840, she grew up in Ohio and later moved to a Kentucky farm where she helped smallpox victims. After the Civil War, Annie moved to Memphis and opened Mansion House,  an upscale brothel on Gayoso Street. The madam Annie had plenty of competition; at that time, some eighteen brothels flourished in the city. When yellow fever hit Memphis is 1873, Annie Cook dismissed her girls and turned her brothel into a hospital where she nursed victims of the deadly disease.  Five years later, in  1878, an even  more widespread epidemic broke out, ultimately claiming more than 5,000 lives. Again, Annie nursed the sick until she too fell ill on September 5, and died on September 11.

On April 5, 1979, the Brothers of the Sacred Heart at St Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral in Memphis, with help from a private donor erected this tombstone for “the Mary Magdalene of Memphis.”

“Out of sin, the woman…merged, transfigured and purified to become the healer. Surely the sins of this woman must have been forgiven her, for her faith has made her whole–made her one with the loving Christ, whose example she followed in giving her life that others might live. ”       From Annie Cook’s eulogy, the Memphis Appeal, September 17, 1878

Annie is one of thousands of unsung heroines who quietly made a difference in the lives of others without expecting notice or reward. I love finding and writing stories about people like her.  Who is the unsung heroine in your life? Leave a post and let me know. I’d love to hear your story.

Photo credit: Melissa Bridgman