Annie Cook, prostitute and nurse whose real name is unknown, was reportedly an attractive woman of German descent who grew up in Ohio. She worked for a family in Kentucky, where she was remembered for aiding impoverished smallpox victims. After the Civil War, Cook moved to Memphis and operated Mansion House, an upscale brothel on Gayoso Street. In 1872 her bagnio was one of eighteen in the city.
When the yellow fever epidemic struck Memphis in 1873, Cook dismissed her girls, opened her elegant house to patients, and nursed them through the fever. She repeated her charitable act during the more devastating epidemic of 1878, gaining a reputation for expertise in caring for victims of the disease. Two of her "female inmates" followed her example and volunteered as nurses. Newspaper reports focused attention on Cook's sacrifices; even the "Christian Women of Louisville" commended her generosity and the example she set. On September 5, 1878, Cook contracted yellow fever. She died on September 11.
The Howard Association, a local relief organization, later showed its regard by moving her grave to the association's plot in Elmwood Cemetery. In the Memphis Appeal of September 17, 1878, she was lauded in Victorian fashion as a converted sinner: "Out of sin, the woman, in all the tenderness and fullness of her womanhood, merged, transfigured and purified, to become the healer."
Published » December 25, 2009 | Last Updated » January 01, 2010