There is much that we do not know about Frank Korn, even what became of him. For that matter, we don’t know much about his grandmother, Frances/Francis Klocker (sometimes spelled Kloecker).
What we do know is that on Sept. 12, 1928, Klocker complained to juvenile authorities in San Francisco that Frank Korn was actually Frances (or Francis) Korn and had been living as a man for many years, having married and adopted two children. Klocker explained that at the age of 90, she had found “her courage at last in her desire to shield the child,” the Reading (Pa.) Eagle reported.
(An adopted girl had been given to another relative after the death of Korn’s wife about 1916, but he retained custody of a boy named Bernard, who was then 11).
According to the Reading Eagle’s account, Klocker had been raised in Germany and her daughter had been married to a nobleman who demanded that she have a son. When she gave birth to a girl, the husband left.
The baby girl was named Frances, but “as a small child she expressed the childish wish to ‘be a boy,’ ” the Eagle said. “The desire grew and grew until it became an obsession and at the age of 16 it became a fact, so far as the world knew, for Frances put on man’s clothing, never to wear any other.”
According to The Times account, Frances Korn was highly educated. She was trained as a singer and spoke three languages.
However, Korn secretly studied navigation, obtained papers as a first mate and embarked on life at sea, The Times said.
The Eagle reported that Klocker came to San Francisco in 1903 and Korn arrived in 1905.
In 1911, Korn told Klocker that she had married Annie Leary, explaining “I want to marry her for the sake of company.”
“Annie was happy too,” Klocker said.
The couple adopted two children and Leary apparently died about 1916. Newspapers informed readers that Leary never suspected Korn’s secret and that Korn married “for companionship.”
Korn had been working for the last three years in a machine shop, identified as Pacific Gear Co., but apparently quit once her story became known.
The Times reported that Klocker sought police protection, saying that Korn had threatened her life because she had exposed Korn’s “17-year-secret.” Klocker feared that Korn might commit suicide, the Eagle said.
According to California death records, Francis Klocker died Feb. 1, 1929, at the age of 90, not long after the story broke.
A search of early California newspapers reveals several citations of a Frank Korn in San Francisco, but it’s unclear if it’s the same person.
A San Francisco Call article from Aug. 18, 1907, refers to a Frank Korn taking part in a performance by the Eastern Star, the Masonic group for women. The Sausalito News for June 1, 1911, also refers to a performer named Frank Korn.
Many of us are familiar with the story of Billy Tipton, who was born a woman and took on the identity of a male bandleader. And I once wrote a post (which I can’t locate at the moment) about two women in the 1940s who were living as a married couple. There’s even the story of Maud Effinger, who dressed up as a man to attend a boxing match in 1910.
But this is the earliest account I can recall of a woman living as man for years, being married, adopting children, etc.