Annie Cook (1840-1878), a prosperous Memphis madam, is celebrated for transforming
her high-class, newly-built-and-lavishly decorated "House" into a hospital during
the Yellow Fever Epidemic of 1878 and for the subsequent sacrifice of her life while
On August 26, 1878, The Memphis Appeal ran an item on Cook's "hospital," stating that
"Annie Cook, who kept the noted demi-monde establishment, the Mansion House," was
"herself an expert in the management of the disease" and that she had taken fever
patients into her "elegantly furnished rooms" where "she personally nursed them."
She had also opened her house during the less severe 1873 epidemic. On August 30,
1878, she received a note from "the Christian women of Memphis" who assured her that
"an act so generous" and "utterly unselfish should not be passed over without notice."
From a group of Louisville, Kentucky, women, she received a letter stating that "every
heart in the whole country responds with affectionate gratitude to the noble example
you have set for Christian men and women."
The Appeal reported on September 5 that Cook, "the keeper of a bagnio on Gayoso Street,
who has most heroically devoted herself to the care of the sick...is down with a bad
case of the fever" and expressed hope for her recovery since "no one had done better
service than she during the epidemic."
On September 12, The Appeal reported her death with the following tribute: Annie Cook,
the woman who after a long life of shame, ventured all she had of life and property
for the sick, died yesterday at 7 o'clock of yellow fever...Surely the sins of the
woman must have been forgiven...Out of sin, this woman in all tenderness and true-fullness
of her womanhood emerged transfigured and purified to become the healer and at last
to come to the Healer of souls...She is at peace.
Dr. Joan Weatherly
Image courtesy of Bryan Anderson, 2013. Invalid Feeder, porcelain, 19th century, courtesy of Mrs. Rita Thomas.