Meet the 19th Century Trans Pool Shark Who Won Thousands Destroying Men

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It wouldn’t have been possible for me to meet Frances Anderson, whose life spanned the five decades between 1871 and 1928, but in many ways, I feel that I know her.

From assorted newspaper archives, I can piece her life together: a sharp-shooting billiardist who accepted any opponent’s challenge and demanded her worth in national appearance fees. During the influenza pandemic of 1918, she worked nurse shifts for the Red Cross. Over her storied 40-year career, she amassed an estimated $150,000 in exhibition game earnings, according to Forgotten Madness L.A. (about $2.7 million in today’s dollars), and was often called the world’s champion “woman billiard player.”

Born in 1871 in Newton, Kansas, Anderson’s obsession with pool sprouted early, leading to a fight with her father over her fascination with the game. The fight could have held other unspoken thorns for Anderson, of course: she was being raised as a boy in a town of under 5,000 people, long before transness was in the public discourse. The fight proved to be a rupturing point, and she told her family at the time they would never hear from her again.

Years after running away, a woman began appearing in pool halls promising $5,000 to any person who could defeat her. The woman was Anderson, who led a life as a stealth trans woman. At the time, pool halls were a space reserved for men, so the idea of a woman billiardist was enough to draw a crowd. Men would suggest matches and Anderson would ably defeat them, collecting the men’s money by the end of the night. (She never asked her female opponents to pay anything.)

Anderson, rarely defeated, traveled to 48 states to make appearances that were advertised in newspapers and drew spectators from far and wide. Women were also welcome at Anderson’s matches, where they were provided a window into a social setting they were often excluded from. Anderson soon gained serious acclaim, and though she lived in Los Angeles, she spent most of her time on the road. Little is known about her personal life; friends, lovers, and chosen family must have been a part of her world, but they don’t appear in the reports. One can gather her generosity with donations to the Red Cross and volunteer engagements. The newspapers from that time paint her as a solitary character, fueled by competition and her love of the game.

In 1919 The Gazette ran the headline: “Woman Billiardist Defeats Mere Man,” an obvious jab at the gender politics at play. In 1920, the Meridan Morning Record reported: “Miss Anderson Didn’t Perform In This City.” Apparently, there was a “misunderstanding” about Anderson’s fee. When she arrived at the pool hall she demanded “much more money” than was agreed upon, according to the pool hall owner. The snark of the article is obvious; all the more reason to love a woman who demands her worth.