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 Annie Cook

Annie Cook

Death 11 Sep 1878 (aged 37–38)
Memphis, Shelby County, Tennessee, USA
Burial Memphis, Shelby County, Tennessee, USA
Memorial ID 8564037 · View Source
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Milan Exchange, September 19 1878

Annie Cook, a noted Memphis prostitute, transformed her house into a fever hospital and did noble work in nursing and helping the sufferers until stricken down herself. She gave her life for charity. Let Christian charity forget all her evil deeds.

She was interred September 11 1878 in the Chapel Hill section of the cemetery but was later moved to the Howard Section.

The following is part of an article entitled "I Reckon So" by T.H. Alexander and appeared in the Tennessean, July 15 1934.

"I am inclined to believe that Annie Cook atoned for some of the evils of her sisters. She ran the old Mansion House on Gayoso Street in Memphis, and they call her now on Gayoso Street and Beale Street and other sections of Memphis half-world by the title of "The Queen of Gayoso Street." It is a title born of the desire of the underworld to throw the glamor of romance over its tawdry traffic in vice.

When the Queen of Gayoso Street was at the height of her reign she was a big, strapping woman, the landlady of the Mansion House. She was a jolly, laughing woman, not reckoning of the morrow. She had twenty girls at the house who brought in a golden stream of money.

Then disaster swept Memphis. Yellow fever broke out. Brought by mosquitos--as we now know--from the river swamps far wouth of the city. It took off thousands of Memphias. Memphis was not yet recovered from the effects of the War Between the States.

There were many tales told of the yellow fever scourge, then common in the South. families were separated as fathers and brothers deserted them and fled to the mountains, leaving them to die alone. Wives were left stranded by their panic stricken husbands as the disease advanced, but the old-time historians say there is not one case of a wife deserting her husband.

Down in the big house on Gayoso Street where reigned the queen of the red light district, the stream of men stopped. Those who came danced grimly the masque of the red death as some dropped out with the disease on the dance hall floor. Some of the girls contracted the yellow fever.

Annie Cook one night, while cold stone sober, called in her girls and dismissed them. She saw that they had railroad fare to go further norht. Then she turned her house of shame into a hospital and filled it with patients of the epidemic. Evidently, as the old records point out, she had been a nurse for her skill brought back many to health and her open purse helped many others. Perhaps there are some in Memphis today whose grandfathers were nursed back to health by this gentle member of the scarlet sisterhood.

On September 11, 1873, the reign of the "Queen of Gayoso Street" was abruptly ended. She contracted yellow fever and died among her patients. The yellowed pages of the Memphis Appeal of the following morning tell of the death of this fallen angel of mercy whose soul strangely was not so soiled as her body:

Annie Cook, the woman who after a long life of shame ventured all she had of life and property for the sick, died September 11 of yellow fever, which she contracted while nursing her patients.

If there was virtue in the faith of the women who but touched the hem of the garment of the Divine Redeemer, surely the sins of this woman must have been forgiven her. Her faith hath made her whole--made her one with the loving Christ, whose example she followed in giving her life that others might live.

Amid so much that was sorrowful in an agonizing degree, so much that illumined the graces of a common humanity, and so much that disgraced that humanity, the example of that brave woman stands by itself, singular but beautiful, sad but touching, the very expression of that hope the realization of which we have in the words: Inasmuch as ye have done it unto the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me. Out of sin, the woman in all the tenderness and true fullness of her womanhood, merged, transfigured and purified, to become the healer, and at last to come to the Healer of souls, with Him to rest forever. She is at peace.

Perhaps there is no special moral to this little tale. Perhaps her grave in Elmwood Cemetery, in memphis, is not even kept green any longer. Perhaps she did little good in Comparison with her much evil. But it seems to me that the words of the Master fit just such a case whe he said of the street woman that "her sins, which are many, are forgiven her, for she loved much."

It was passing strange that out of Mary Magdalene "went seven devils," but it was to her that the Master first appeared from the sepulchre.


Died of yellow fever. A nineteenth century Mary Madgelene who gave her life while trying to save the lives of others.




  • Maintained by: Mary & Kent
  • Originally Created by: Anonymous
  • Added: 27 Mar 2004
  • Find A Grave Memorial 8564037
  • Find A Grave, database and images ( : accessed ), memorial page for Annie Cook (1840–11 Sep 1878), Find A Grave Memorial no. 8564037, citing Elmwood Cemetery, Memphis, Shelby County, Tennessee, USA ; Maintained by Mary & Kent (contributor 47170788) .