Very little is known about him/her which makes this act all the more fascinating.
Josephine-Joseph was a “hermaphrodite” act that was promenant in the circus sideshows of the time. Because the average “rube” knew little about actual hermaphrodites, the “gaffed” act would usually consist of a person who was split down the middle with one side being male and the other being female. This was usually done by a split costume, hairstyle, makeup on one side of the face and the act working out with weights on one side of the body to give it more definition and a more masculine look. During this time this act was exclusively done by those born male.
Josephine-Joseph was born either in 1886 or 1897 in either the United States or near Austria. They traveled with smaller sideshows before getting their big break in a role in Tod Browning’s FREAKS.
Josephine-Joseph was married to their manager, George Waas, who handled all booking and money for the act. By all accounts, Josephine-Joseph and George were a happy couple and he doted after them.
After the success of the act in the film, Waas took Josephine-Joseph to London to perform. It wasn’t long before both Waas and Josephine-Joseph were arrested for fraudulently presenting to the British Public and conspiracy to commit fraud.
Waas offered to provide X-rays of Josephine-Joseph to the court to prove that they were a real hermaphrodite but the judge rejected this wanting a physician to examine them instead. The resulting testimony was inconclusive.
“I have no idea what the medical testimony may be, but I do say this, that the woman so far as I know does show to the public certain muscles on one side of her body which are more developed than those on the other side. She also has a male voice and a female voice. She may be without breast on one side, but this does not make her half man and half woman, as it can be brought about by operation or by physical exercises. Muscles can be developed on one side of the body and not on the other.”
Using a smile and their charm Josephine Joseph replied:
“I want to plead guilty and get it over with. You are not going to crucify me entirely, are you? We both plead guilty. I am sorry. I will give up this show and leave the country.”
They left the country, quit showbiz and were never heard from again.
Now for the interesting thing. It is believed that the marriage was, interestingly enough, a fraud. George, it seemed, was married once to a Betty Waas from Romania. The thought is that, due to things being what they were then, it was easy to commit marriage fraud and that Betty was a shill. Names have been bandied about including the name Jefferson Weeler.
The newest theory is that George and Jefferson were both gay men who were very much in love and were under no delusions of what that meant at the time. The act was a perfect way to hide Jefferson or Josephine or whoever’s actual sex and make a marriage between them a big enough question that it was more complicated to annul than to ignore.
When they ended up in England things got a little too close for comfort. Through some fenagling, luck, and charm, a quick plea of guilty, a promise to leave and never perform again and a 25 pound fine they were able to get away without anyone actually looking too closely at them.
Presumably, Josephin-Joseph and George lived happily ever after as, very possibly, one of the first, unquestioned, on paper same sex marriages in the US.