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  • Writer's pictureCheryl Anne Stapp

A Close Attachment

The proverb “Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned” is from the 17th century play The Mourning Bride, and means that no one is angrier than a woman who has been rejected by the man she loves. But what about a woman who has been humiliated by malicious gossip that falsely asserts she is the fiancée of a man arrested for passing bogus checks—and a man who has suddenly been exposed to the world as a woman?

Such was the unfortunate situation of Miss Helen Fairweather—a spinster schoolmarm and semi-invalid suffering from undisclosed ills—in January, 1895.

Tracked down for an interview after days of brouhaha over the “Matson Gender Scandal” in Los Gatos, Santa Cruz, San Jose, San Francisco and other California towns, Helen Fairweather’s fair, thin face held clear signs of the annoyance such notoriety had caused her. Her profusion of light brown hair, crimped at the sides, was mostly hidden under a peaked felt hat, while a dotted veil partly concealed the upper half of her features. Judged to be on the wrong side of thirty by some, she adamantly denied that she had ever been engaged to marry the person known (before the scandal broke) as Milton B. Matson; a person now revealed to be Louisa Elizabeth Blaxton Matson, a female who, it turned out, had been successfully masquerading as a man for the past seventeen years.

“Did the people but tell the truth,” Helen Fairweather told the reporter, “it would not be so annoying, but the lies that are circulated are terrible.”

She meant, not just the lies about an affair of the heart, but the lies that she had given the accused felon any money. “As to my advancing Matson money, that is as false as anything can be. Where should I ever have gotten $1,200 together with no income outside of my salary as a teacher? The most money I ever had to my name at any one time was $200, and my health issues took it all.”

Miss Fairweather stated that she had become acquainted with Milton Matson when, for health reasons, she had lived for three months at the Ben Lomond Hotel near Santa Cruz, where Matson was employed as the night watchman. During those three months, their shared love of music had brought them together at the piano at every opportunity. Matson had been very attentive to her, very kind; and certainly had evidenced a fondness for her in many ways.

No, she said, in all that time Matson had never given her the slightest intimation that “he” was other than represented. Indeed, in Ben Lomond and elsewhere, Milton Matson smoked a pipe, drank the best brands of whiskey, let loose at times with a stream of profanity, and could tell a racy story with the best of the boys.

Well, the accused felon certainly enjoyed those masculine habits before the arrest, successfully fooling the entire community of Los Gatos. Now, from her San Jose jail cell, Louisa E. B. Matson—still nattily clad as a man in light-colored trousers and a black cutaway coat—airily dismissed as mere trumpery the charges against her for obtaining money under false pretenses, never mind passing bad checks. She stoutly denied having had a love affair with Miss Fairweather, because she, Louisa, had been straight all her life; not gay as her accusers claimed.

Perhaps, though, this published statement of Matson’s didn’t dull any of Helen Fairweather’s pain; for she ended her newspaper interview with these words:

“This is terrible to be annoyed and have fun poked at me,” she said, “but I suppose I’m not the first one who has made a mistake, so I will have to grin and bear it. So far as Matson’s fraudulent transactions are concerned, I know nothing of them and did not assist in any way financially.”

“I was loved, and that it was not a man is no fault of mine. To those inclined to be merry at my expense, I can say that it is better to have been loved even by a woman than not to have been loved at all.”

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