Quickie: Allotment Annies

Things were tough in WWII, but some enterprising young women in the US came up with a devious money making scheme, at the expense of some poor hapless G.I’s

See, in the US if you were married to a soldier you were entitled to a $20 a week ‘allotment’ if they were shipped overseas to fight during the War, and if they were killed in action you were entitled to $10,000!

Obviously this allotment was a godsend to wives who had families to feed whilst their husbands were at war. BUT the Army was so busy helping out with the war they didn’t keep too close an eye on who was claiming these benefits…

With such a lax system in place it’d be real easy, if you were a nefarious kinda gal, to marry a couple of soldiers, change your last name and just keep claiming that sweet sweet cash.

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Making it rain with moral dubiousness!

Women that did this became known as: Allotment Annies.

‘Annies’ often racked up multiple husbands, and because of the huge death tolls during the war they didn’t have to worry too much about getting caught; since the poor schmuck they married was likely to get killed off before coming home and finding a new hubby in his place.

It goes without saying that Allotment Annies weren’t very popular people. Never mind breaking some soldier’s heart who’s been out fighting a horrendous war and is likely scarred for life – add finding out your Mrs is a bigamist; thats one mighty kick in the nuts.

The most famous Allotment Annie was Elvira Taylor. Elvira married SIX sailors during her scam and was only foiled when two sailors in an Australian pub showed each other pics of their lovely wife… only to discover it was THE SAME WOMAN!

Fisticuffs occurred, but after beating the crap out of each other, the two men banded together, went to the police and Elvira was duly hauled off to jail.

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Vivian Eggers another notorious ‘Allotment Annie’

Meanwhile, Vivian Eggers from Indianapolis managed to marry a whopping 7 soldiers, including two in ONE DAY! The logistics of that must have been fun.

Viv ended up being taken to court by all 7 of her husbands; here’s what she had to say of her crimes:

“You just get to drinking and having a good time, and you meet someone that’s kinda nice and that’s the way it happens,”

BTW, thats an actual quote from Viv at her trial for bigamy & fraud; yeah… the judge was unimpressed and gave her 18 months jail time. laugh.gif

But, a lot of Allotment Annies clapped back, claiming they were working for the war effort by giving the men something to fight and come home for. Grace Vivien Reinert a 22 year old Annie told press that;

“The girls figure that they’re making the boys happy, and that before the war is over the husbands will either be killed or glad to forget about their marriages.”

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Incase you were wondering, Grace actually married 2 sailors and was claiming allotments for both of them. She ended up in jail because her husbands met up and realised they were married to the same woman when they noticed their allotment cheques were going to the same address. I guess her theory on the men being ok with it, didn’t really work out.  

The army soon caught onto the Annies scams, after they estimated that there were thousands of bigamist brides getting rich off the allotment scheme. BUT it was really hard to catch an Allotment Annie in the act; in the entire war only a few were ever actually caught.

So, the Army put together a plan to wise up their troops against wold be Annies. They created a series of adverts warning men to watch out for bigamists.

There was even a major film made about Allotment Annies; 1945s, Film Noir, Allotment Wives. Which stars Hollywood Queen, Kay Francis, as the ringleader of a bigamy scheme to get allotment cheques. Spoiler: It doesn’t end well for her.

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AN example of an anti-allotment annie ad

After the war the Allotment Annies were finished… not because they got caught, but because the cash flow dried up when there wasn’t a war to fight overseas.

Who knows how many women scammed the US Army out of thousands of dollars. If it’s as many as the army claims then it’s kinda hard not to be impressed by that level of ingenuity.

This was interesting, Where can I find out more? Well, I’d totally check out the film, Allotment Wives, for a lovely slice of over the top propaganda noir. It’s currently available to stream on Amazon, along with several other platforms.

Sara Westrop is passionate about making history accessible (and fun!) for everyone. A disabled, queer writer from just outside London, who loves writing about the unsung chapters of history.

Sister Rosetta Tharpe: The rock & roll pioneer we forgot

Queer muscian, Sister Rosetta Tharpe is FINALLY getting her place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame this year, and you know what?

IT’S ABOUT BLOODY TIME!

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This lady is a damn queen! 

Rosetta was a singer/songwriter who rose to fame in the 30’s and 40’s by fusing gospel with seriously funky rhythms; helping give birth to Rock & Roll.

Sadly her contribution often gets forgotten by mainstream audiences.

Some critics argue this is due to her music not being solely rock & roll as it fused gospel with it…and totally not because she was a black woman…

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no comment

But I would argue that there is tons of irrefutable evidence that Rosetta’s pioneering sound, left its mark on future groundbreaking musicians, including Little Richard, Johnny Cash, Elvis, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis and countless others.

So lets give the nice lady her due and discover how Rosetta came to forge rock & roll!

In the beginning, there was Rosetta

Rosetta was born in 1915 Arkansas, close to the Mississippi. She was singing gospel music AND learning to play the guitar by the age of 4 (basically a born over achiever)

Realising her daughter had a heck of a talent Rosetta’s mother took her to Chicago to join the evangelical Church of God in Christ ( a church famed for it’s musicians) when she was 6 years old.

Rosetta was in heaven! Here she could play music everyday; honing her skills as a singer and experimenting with electric guitars.

It was this electric experimentation that led to Rosetta developing distortion techniques that gave birth to Blues Rock.

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Rosetta doing her thing!

Rosetta Births Rock & Roll 

When Rosetta was 23 she left the church behind to break out into showbiz and was quickly signed up by Decca Records, where she recorded her ridiculously unique blend of gospel, sensuality and infectiously melodic guitar.

It was the uniqueness made Rosetta into one of the 30’s and 40;s most popular club acts.

Her gospel sound in a seedy cabaret setting was scandalous at the time. This meant that Rosetta was snubbed by religious circles who thought her music evil and her mere act of playing guitar a sin.

Rosetta didn’t care. 

In fact she didn’t care so much that in 1944 she recorded what many music aficionados now believe to be the first Rock & Roll song.

Strange Things Happening Everyday, charted at number 2 in the R&B Chart(then known as the Race Chart) and you can hear how their guitar and piano arrangement influenced Chuck Berry, Little Richard and basically anyone who picked up a guitar after her.

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YOU CAN SAY THAT AGAIN! 

The Later Years and Lady Love

In the late 40’s Rosetta met fellow gospel singer and rumored lover Marie Knight.

The ladies took their act on tour…which again proved to be controversial (so nothing new for Rosetta…) see two women touring alone with no men (!) was unheard of, not matter how ideal it sounds.

Sadly this wonderful partnership didn’t last. During one gig poor Marie’s mother and two small children were killed in a house fire.

Marie was devastated and moved away from Rosetta and started focusing on her solo music.

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Rosetta and Marie in happier times

After she and Marie parted ways Rosetta hatched an amazing plan.

She’d have a public wedding (sadly to an arsehole of a bloke -which we will get to-) and a concert afterwards; obvs charging tickets for the whole

It all took place in the Griffith stadium in Washington D.C and it was packed to the gills! For those who couldn’t make the day, a recording was released pretty much immediately.

Though the publicity was huge, it didn;’t last for long. Mainly becuase Rosetta’s new husband, Russel Morrison terribly mismanaged her career.

Oh yeah and he was also a cheating bellend. Nice one Russ.

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Fucking Russ

Rosetta moves the fuck on

By this time, Rosetta was due a revamp.

Blues legend Muddy Waters did an incredible tour with Rosetta in the mid 1960’s and they performed a gig in Manchester at a disused railway station.

The concert could have been a disaster though as the heavens opened when it was meant to start.

Rosetta was not having that though. She changed her opening number to ‘Didn’t it Rain?’ arriving on the platform by horse and carriage while it was pissing it down and plugging her guitar in with no worries about it electrocuting her live on stage.

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Rossetta, aged 47, giving no fucks about deadly electrics

After an entrance like that…Rosetta obviously blew everyone away

Not only that, but she influenced a whole new heap of musicians who’d been in attendance, including Morissey, a couple members of Joy Division and some of the Buzzcocks….so you know, barely anyone important…

The groundbreaking gig was broadcast on UK TV and was cited by critics as a significant cultural event…E246F1F3-590C-466F-A93B-BEC80D898980

You can view her incredible performance here. Try watching this without bouncing around in your seat. Her energy is just incredible!

She plays an amazing guitar solo, then quips with the audience… Pretty good for a woman ain’t it? UNDERSTATEMENT OF THE MILLENIUM!

Rosetta’s Recognition

In the early 1970’s Rosetta had a stroke that stopped her from performing, and a few years later she had her leg amputated because of issues with diabetes.

Rosetta never really recovered from this and she passed away in 973 after suffering another stroke at the age of 58. She was just about to get back in the recording studio.

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Same 😭

Heartbreakingly Rosetta was buried without a gravestone, because her family just couldn’t afford one and her funeral was sparsely attended.

Rosetta remained an obscure figure until the turn of the century when her music was rediscovered.

In 2007 she was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame and a concert was held in 2008 to raise money to get Rosetta a gravestone.

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A memorial Rosetta deserved

In 2008 January 11th was declared ‘Sister Rosetta Tharpe Day’ by the State Governor of Pennsylvania; she was finally getting recognition she so richly deserved.

Then on December 27th 2017 Rosetta was inaugurated into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as an Early Influencer.

It’s 40+ years late, but they got there eventually, we wouldn’t have rock n blues without this amazing woman. wooohoooo

Rosetta had the most incredible voice. It’s hard describing it if you’ve not heard her (and seriously we encourage you to seek her out if you haven’t) but her voice is just so joyful and amazingly rich and sumptuous, AND it has magical healing powers. No joke!

What I love about her songs are the underlying message of hope and cheer, she’s telling us ‘Yeah stuff is difficult and a bit shit, but we are gunna carry on anyway and make the fucking best of it!’ So she’s my go to for days I need a good kick up the arse.

This was interesting where can I find out more?

There’s a wonderful documentary on Sister Rosetta Tharpe by Mick Csaky on Youtube, we highly recommend it. https://youtu.be/FKK_EQ4pj9A

Sara Westrop is passionate about making history accessible (and fun!) for everyone. A disabled, queer writer from just outside London, who loves writing about the unsung chapters of history.

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