a new dawn for the dowdy doppelganger

Dawn Langley Simmons (1937-2000) was born Gordon Langley Hall, the illegitimate son of Vita Sackville-West’s chauffeur.  

image of Gordon before becoming Dawn found here

“Jack Hitt, a journalist who grew up in Charleston across the street from Mrs. Simmons and wrote about her for GQ magazine, remembered her as a figure with a piercing stare, a pillbox hat and ”a Dippity-Do hairstyle, a dowdy doppelganger of Jackie Kennedy.’

image found here

Mrs. Simmons was a person around whom legends swirled. She lived in a grand house filled with antiques and a hidden garden. She was said to have had a coming-out party for two of her dogs, who were displayed on velvet cushions in the living room, dressed in chenille, long gloves and pearls.

image found here

Mrs. Simmons was born with an adrenal abnormality that caused her female genitalia to resemble a male’s and was thus raised as a boy. She always maintained that she was — unequivocally — female. In his late teens, Mr. Hall emigrated to Ontario, where he worked as a missionary, teacher and midwife among the Ojibwa Indians, according to his book about his experiences, ”Me Papoose Sitter”. He also wrote books about Princess Margaret, Jacqueline Kennedy and American Evangelism.

image found here

Moving to New York in his twenties, Mr. Hall met the actress Margaret Rutherford. She and her husband, Stringer Davis, were so enchanted with Gordon that they adopted him.

Stringer and Margaret found here

During that time Gordon also befriended the painter Isabel Whitney, who left him $2 million at her death in 1962. He moved to Charleston, settling into a faded 1840 house on Society Street in the Ansonborough section, which had a large gay population. He became friendly with Charleston’s grandes dames, restored his house and filled it with Chippendale furniture, mirrors said to belong to George Washington, and bed steps said to have been owned by Robert E. Lee.

image by Joan Perry found here

Then in 1968 Gordon underwent a sex change operation at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, and became Dawn Pepita Langley Hall. The following year she married her 22-year-old black butler, John-Paul Simmons. The publisher of ”Dawn: A Charleston Legend” was quoted as calling it the first documented interracial marriage in Charleston’s history. A bomb threat forced the couple to move the wedding from a Baptist church to the bride’s home, and the gifts were destroyed by a firebomb.

image found here

In England, Miss Rutherford was reported to have said, ”I am delighted that Gordon has become a woman, delighted that Dawn is to marry a man of another race, and delighted that Dawn is to marry a man of a lower station, but I understand the man is a Baptist!

John the Baptist found here

Soon, Mrs. Simmons appeared to be pregnant. Then in 1972, she began strolling with a baby carriage bearing a little girl whom she called Natasha. In 1974, after a period of turbulence in which she accused her husband of selling her belongings to buy whisky, the family moved to Catskill, N.Y. Some time later, Mr. Simmons was confined to a mental institution near Albany. 

Dawn died in September 2000. Her daughter asked that she be remembered as the family woman she was, devoted to her children.

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51 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I’m impressed that they stayed in Charleston for five more years after having their wedding fire-bombed.

  2. What an excellent comment by Margaret Rutherford.

    I’d rather stick pins in my legs than get married, but I’m very glad I live in a place and a time when the racial background of my partner would count for nothing in the world;s eyes.

    • Judging by one of the commenters below, it still counts for some people 😦

  3. FFS, the curse of WordPress strikes again. That was me, posting from my website which I am pleased to say has nothing to do with Word Bloody Press.

    • some very frustrating things have been happening around wordpress lately

  4. daschaunds are the only dogs that can wear a pearl necklace properly…

  5. I wonder what the daughter looks like? Were there any photos of her floating about? My retirement plan includes being bequeathed $2 million by a wealthy patron. That should set things straight for all the injustices I’ve suffered in life.

    • Well my plan of being adopted by a very wealthy person in my 20’s already failed.

  6. So a little confused here…did he/she have a sex change operation? Or was it just to ‘tidy things up’ if they looked a ittle too macho? Assume she must have been born a female to have a baby? Or am I just all too confused by the whole thing?

    • 63mago explains it below…..

  7. if you mix xxxx with ice cream it does nothing for the ice cream! xxxxx xxxxxx xxxx xx xxxxx xxx

    • This has to be a joke, but I will play along.
      Chocolate and vanilla ice cream is great. Cinnamon and vanilla ice cream is great. Brown sugar and vanilla ice cream is great. Coffee cinnamon vanilla ice cream is great.

      • xxxxxxxxxxxxx xx xx xxxxx

      • Oh? you want to keep this going?
        Pure genetic lines are susceptible to disease and genetic faults.
        Lack of DNA diversity in the potato led to its vulnerability to blight in 1840.
        Today’s banana also is all bred from one DNA strain and is vulnerable to disease.

        Inbreeding leads to things like a Cleft palate. “the more inbreeding in your ancestry, the more likely you are to have identical copies of the same genes – and that raises the odds that some of those double copies will contain defects.”

      • http://www.cbc.ca/passionateeye/episode/pedigree-dogs-re-exposed.html
        Inbreeding in dogs was on TV tonight.

      • Ok Tony, enough is enough. I’ve edited out your offensive and racist comments but left the replies by Mark, Syncy and Queenie in place.

        Find somewhere else to play.

    • Fuck off you evil shit.

      • That was to ‘tony blair’, not you, Mark, whomI commend.

      • Who is this idiot Tony Blair dude?

        AND yes, apparently cavendish bananas are in danger of extiction. That is SCARY.

      • Why are people like you so scared of a different opinion? At least I am honest and talk freely with those whom I personally disagree. xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
        xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx I am not here to offend but commenting freely on a subject that is central to our modern western lives. Multiculturalism has failed in every country its been tried in. Just look at the USA prison population. I have lots of friends both black and white. My friends value my honesty and respect my opinions which are backed up by facts.

      • The commenter Tony Blair is at least openly racistic. As all racists he takes the result of race discrimination (f.e. the fact that in American prisons sit much more black men than one would expect according to their share of the total population) as argument for the “higher value” of his own race.
        As all racists he identifies “race” as deceiding factor behind historical, cultural and economical developments, understood as “progress” and hence good. Ignoring of course that different “races” at different times under similar conditions developed the oh so holy progress.
        And of course it culminates in “multiculturalism is dead”, again linking “race” and “culture” and advocating segregation.
        Oh yes, I am sure that Toby Blair has many friends, racists of all colours agree in their basic ideas.

        I am tired of all this nonsense. “Race” is a construction, “culture” is a large projection screen, and some are only able to project and reproduce their inability to think, their unspoken fears and their need to be more worthful, to be better, to stand above other humans.
        Suck your icecream.

  8. I think it is interesting that no one seemed to be upset by the fact that she went through a sex change operation and then got married, but that she married her butler!!! THAT was horrible because he was of a different race.

    I wish I could befriend an artist that would leave me a couple of million bucks, but I always seem to befriend impoverished musicians.

    • I don’t know too any millionaire artists either. And most of the ones I know of I don’t like. Tracey Emin, Jeff Koons, Julian Schnabel…

  9. What an interesting read.

    Bonus: Brings out “the best” in the comments.

    • Brings ’em out of the bloody woodwork doesn’t it?

  10. You’ve got me all curious, N.M…
    I’m off to look for some Isabel Whitney paintings.
    And two million.

    • I wonder if she had anything to do with the Whitney Museum…?

  11. A fascinating life but – at times – there must have been such struggling and pain.
    I love her daughter’s wishes and words. They speak volumes.

    (Interesting (??) comments this post inspired…)

    • Yes, the daughter sounds like a loving and sensible person.

  12. I agree with Beth – the daughter is wise and kind. I am thankful that there is an operation for people such as Dawn, trapped in the wrong body.

  13. Margaret Rutherford – legend. She always played wondefully bizarre characters and yet made them completely plausible.

  14. It was illegal for South Carolina whites to marry members of any other racial group until 1967 when the US Supreme Court overturned miscegenation laws. Dawn’s marriage must have upset a lot of people who were disturbed about changes in race relations in the South. According to the obituary that you linked, she was beaten and had some bones broken after the “birth” of her child.

    • No need to write “birth”: It’s a case of female pseudohermaphroditismus. It means that the internal femal sexual organs are there and working. The operation only took care of the hypertrophic external organs, a overdeveloped clitoris and possibly labia, which resembeled Penis and (an empty) scrotum.
      Of course she could have children afterwards.

      • Yes, there’s a lot more in the article I linked to. There is some doubt about whether or not she actually gave birth to her daughter. But really, what does it matter in the long run?

      • No. She would be beaten regardless whether the child was her “real” or an adopted one.

  15. A dippity-do hairstyle sounds impressive.

    • The advertising jingle hurts my ears, otherwise I’d post a video

  16. Margaret Rutherford’s Miss Marple is just wonderful.

    • Serendipitous! I just read two Miss Marple books on the weekend. She was wonderful wasn’t she.

      Also, dachshunds rule.

  17. Certainly it was not a boring life for him/her/them.

  18. As always, a most interesting tale. Thanks!

  19. One day I will have a little black-and-tan dachshund named Olive, and she will most definitely wear pearls.

  20. You find the most wonderful stories my lovely.

  21. So if she had her female organs all along, it wasn’t actually a sex-change operation but merely a “feminising” procedure. But then all “sex-changes” are in fact feminising procedures because your basic sexual anatomy can’t be switched, only modified.

    Anyway, good for her casting off the male identity she couldn’t identify with.

  22. How fascinating – I wouldn’t have thought that a male-to-female sex change would allow for conception

    • “Mrs. Simmons was born with an adrenal abnormality that caused her female genitalia to resemble a male’s and was thus raised as a boy. She always maintained that she was — unequivocally — female.”

      She already had internal female reproductive organs.

      • aha!

  23. Oh My Word s/he became pregnant and had a child? I would love to have friends that leave me 2 m when they die.

  24. What a terrible way to lose the wedding gifts but at least no one was harmed. 😦

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