Ella Wesner, c. 1880s, Napoleon Sarony (Canadian photographer, 1821-1896), Cabinet card, Museum purchase, 19126.96.36.199.
A Vaudeville performer, Ella Wesner was the most celebrated male impersonator of the Gilded Age. Wesner worked for, and modeled her performances after, the earliest Vaudeville male impersonator of the time, Annie Hindle. Though she radically challenged social conventions of the time, Wesner was incredibly popular and well-paid for her performances.
Wesner made headlines in 1872 when she decamped to Paris with her same-sex partner, the notorious Helen Josephine “Josie” Mansfield, the notorious mistress of Gilded Age Robber Baron “Diamond Jubilee” Jim Fisk.
Wesner and Mansfield presided over a salon at the Café Américain in Paris. It is said that her dying wish was to be “buried in her male attire.”