Ernest Long was arrested on March 21, 1922, in San Francisco. The charges were dressing in “women’s garb” and carrying a concealed weapon—a revolver. At the time of his arrest Ernest worked as a marine engineer on the steamship “Rose City,” which traveled between San Francisco and Portland.
When the police interviewed Ernest’s wife, Lulu, she told them he awakened her in the middle of the night and forced her to help him dress in women’s clothes. Then instructed her to go back to bed. Lulu also claimed that Ernest had been dressing as a woman for the seven years, since their marriage in 1915. She claimed that he only owned one men’s suit.
“I’m trying to hook up with a vaudeville circuit,” Ernest explained to the cops. “But I’m not ready yet. I wouldn’t want any publicity right now.” This seems like an odd comment from a man who spent his life working in manly jobs such as machinist, engineer, plumber and sailor
Unfortunately he got plenty of publicity; articles about his arrest appeared in newspapers all over California and in his hometown of Portland, Oregon.
Ernest Long, marine engineer, who was arrested last Monday night on a charge of masquerading as a woman on the street, figured as a defendant in two court actions yesterday. He appeared in Police Judge D.S. O’Brien’s court to answer to the masquerading charge, where he entered a plea of guilty.
The costume which Long wore at the time of his arrest was produced in court. It consisted of frilly lingerie, spiderweb silk stockings, fancy pumps and other feminine attire. Judge O’Brien continued the case until next Wednesday to give Dr. O’Neill further time for observations.
Mrs. Lulu Long, the engineer’s wife, made him a defendant in divorce proceedings in the superior court yesterday afternoon, alleging cruelty.
—San Francisco Chronicle, March 25, 1922
In 1863 a law was passed in San Francisco making it a criminal offense for a person to appear in public in “dress not belonging to his or her sex.” The law would remain in place until 1974. San Francisco was not alone — many other American cities also passed laws prohibiting cross-dressing.
Ernest was born into an extremely unusual family. His father, Pon Long, was Chinese and his mother, Selina, was born in England. Pon, a lawyer and merchant, immigrated to America in 1869. The couple met in 1877 when Selina worked as a teacher in a private Chinese school in San Francisco. Somehow they managed to get a marriage license, despite the anti-miscegenation law in California that prohibited marriage between people of different races.
The Pons marriage, described by the press as a “strange affinity,” shocked San Franciscans.
The Long family spent the next 12 years in Portland, Oregon, where they were tolerated despite the law there against interracial marriage. In 1889, when Ernest was an infant, Pon, Selina and their six children sailed to China. A sixth child, Mabel, was born in Hong Kong in 1892. The family spent years dividing their time between China and America.
Likely to avoid discrimination, the children, including Ernest, identified as Caucasian on census and passport documents.
The San Francisco police photographed Ernest in his women’s clothing for use as evidence in court. The clothes were also submitted as evidence. Unlike a typical mugshot, he looks relaxed and dreamy-eyed. His legs in their “spiderweb silk stockings” appear heavy and masculine, but his feet are surprisingly petite. It’s likely Ernest saw bound feet on girls and women while he lived in China. Considered a mark of beauty, he may have been trying to emulate the look, which was thought to be a sexual stimulant for a woman’s male partner.
The 1922 arrest wreaked havoc on Ernest and his family. Lulu filed for divorce and later deserted him, taking their three children with her. However the couple reunited and had five more children. They finally divorced in the early 1940s.
Ernest died in San Diego, California, 55 years after his arrest for “masquerading as a woman.”
Featured photos: Ernest Long, Mar. 21/22, Jesse Brown Cook Scrapbooks Documenting San Francisco History and Law Enforcement, ca. 1895-1936. Collection of the UC Berkeley, Bancroft Library.
Also shown: Ernest Long, 1917 passport photo.