Why some women turned to prostitution, be it from circumstance or drug addiction, it might be never known. Unfortunately at times, caught up with them in the tragic whirlwind by no choice of their own were children. This is one story.
How Pearl Wilson received the nickname Cornbread is unknown, but what is known from contemporary accounts is that she bore a “bad reputation and was bringing her little five year old daughter up in the very blackest of sin.” It was not surprising, then, to officers when they arrested her in 1903 on a charge of street walking with her daughter in tow.
After she was arrested, Wilson was escorted to the city jail, and when the “iron doors closed between the woman and her child, she began to cry” because the police “refused to lock up her little girl.” Deputy Marshal Frank Sowder contacted the Children’s Home and asked that someone come take charge of the child.
When Mrs. Barr, matron of the Children’s Home, arrived to take Pearl Wilson’s daughter to the home, a “most pathetic scene” ensued. Wilson begged to kiss her child goodbye and when the doors of the cell were opened, she “bounded out and clasped the little girl to her bosom, and the tears of mother and daughter mingled.” But Mrs. Barr could not tarry long and soon the “tender, loving mother, [fought] the battle of her life to prevent the officers from separating her from little one.” Her appeal to keep her child with her in the jail cell tugged at the heartstrings of the officers. Both Deputy Marshal Sowder and Night Captain Loughlin could not “keep back the tears.” Neither man wanted to separate mother and child, but with the assistance of Mrs. Barr, the two were separated.
Pearl Wilson was placed back in her cell while her daughter was taken the Children’s Home. The following day, Wilson went before the police judge, where she claimed that she was not street walking; she was merely “on her way home from church when the officers placed her under arrest.” The Globe reporter remarked, “No one in the courtroom who is acquainted with her methods was inclined to believer her story and the court decided to continue her case until” the next morning when “her conduct will be thoroughly investigated.”
By the next day, however, Pearl Wilson was in trouble again. This time it was for going to the Children’s Home at 10 o’clock at night on a Sunday to regain possession of her daughter. After being denied entrance, she “raised a disturbance. She disturbed the entire neighborhood and in a loud manner served notice that she would ‘clean out the roost’ if her wishes were not acceded to.” Pearl left empty-handed but returned the next day and through “a series of gigantic bluffs she endeavored to frighten the inmates and she succeeded in scaring the smaller inmates nearly out of their wits. Perfect and harmonious bedlam reigned” until the police arrived and arrested her once again.
The Globe reporter observed, “Although ‘Cornbread’ has lost the principal attributes of a fond and affectionate mother, she has retained as strong love for the little waif as the matron of the most comfortable home in the city. She has been known to shamefully neglect little Bonnie, but when she is pursued and corralled by the policemen she invariably takes Bonne with her to the jail.”
She must have failed to sway the mind of Mrs. Barr as she and a young man were seen on Christmas eve “prowling about the Home by some of the attendants and were ordered away.” The Globe reported, “the Wilson woman has made the threat that she will have possession of her child if it costs her life.”
What happened to Pearl Wilson and her daughter Bonnie remains unknown. Their story, however, is a common one as many women chose to pursue their livelihood as a member of the frail sisterhood. For the children who were born to women who earned their living on the streets, life was far from easy.
Source: Joplin Globe