Last updated: January 26, 2022
Jack Bee Garland was a medic during the Spanish American War and the aftermath of the San Francisco 1906 earthquake. Assigned female at birth, Garland lived his life as a male. His community only learned of his transition after his passing in 1936. Jack Bee Garland spent much of his life devoted to social work and taking care of others.
Jack Bee Garland was born on December 9th, 1869 in San Francisco, California. His father, Jose Marcos Mugarrieta, served in the Mexican Army and became a teacher. His mother, Eliza Alice Denny Garland, was daughter of Rice Garland, a Congressman from Louisiana. As a child Garland gravitated towards toys designed for boys and befriended boys at school. At sixteen, Jose Mugarrieta passed away. Garland wrote, “Shortly after this I commenced to grow rebellious[...] Oh, if I were but a boy! Just to be able to see all those beautiful things! What would I not have given?” Soon Garland began to wear men’s clothing.
Jack Bee Garland moved to Stockton California and was arrested in 1897 for impersonating a male. When questioned about his choice in clothing and who he was spending his time with, he said, “I have always found it a good plan to attend strictly to my own business.” There were no laws at the time in Stockton around articles of clothing, so Garland was free to go. Many newspapers wrote about the arrest, making him well known in the community. He lived on a houseboat and soon began working as a journalist for The Evening Mail in Stockton.
In 1903, Police Ordinance No. 819 was approved, “Prohibiting the Wearing of Apparel of Opposite Sex: Be it ordained by the People of the City and County of any person to appear, upon any public highway, in the dress, clothing or apparel not belonging to or usually worn by persons of his or her sex.”
Spanish and Philippine War
In April 1898 the United States declared war against Spain. This war was fought over the Spanish colonies of Cuba and the Philippines. Before the war the Presidio of San Francisco was a military outpost, but this conflict turned it into an army base. The war with the Spanish ended by December of the same year, and while the United States granted Cuba its freedom, it retained the Philippines as its own colony. The Philippines fought against the United States to become a free nation. The first unit to fight overseas left from the Presidio, and by the end of the war almost 80,000 military personnel would come through the Presidio on their way to the Philippines.
Women were not able to fight in the war. Garland wanted to contribute, despite how he was born. In October of 1899 the 29th Infantry left for Manila on a ship called “City of Para”. The boat carried military personnel, rations, ammunition, medical supplies. Garland worked on the ship and was beloved by the other crew members. The crew was required to get vaccinations. In fear of becoming ill and getting discovered, Garland disclosed his identity to the ship captain. He was escorted off the boat when it arrived in Honolulu.
Garland was able to make friends with other newspaper journalists and maintain his friendships with other crew and soldiers on The Para. He wrote, “I had been put ashore in Honolulu, but only after officers and men and members of the ship’s company had encouraged me, if no other way offered of getting to Manila, to stow away again on the Para – and that was just what I did.”
Garland had the help of his friends on the boat to provide him with uniforms to blend in, food as he stowed away from the captain, and safe exit from the ship when they arrived in Manila. Shortly after arriving in Manila, Garland was arrested by military police. He explained that the reason he wore men’s clothing was to better fulfill his duties as a newspaper correspondent for The San Francisco Chronicle. Since there was no law in California or Manila around what clothing someone wore, the military allowed Garland to go freely.
Post War, San Francisco
Garland got an up-close perspective of the war. He served with the Red Cross to aide soldiers after of the most challenging battles. Garland was admired for his fearlessness and was referred to as “Lieutenant Jack”. The soldiers in his unit even pooled their money to give Jack Garland a gold medal. After 10 months in the Philippines, Garland boarded transport back to San Francisco in August 1900.
Twenty-two days later, Garland arrive in San Francisco. The war ended in March 1901 when the United States succeeded in squashing the revolution and colonizing the Philippines. The 29th Infantry arrived at the Presidio in San Francisco the following month and were welcomed home by their old friend Jack Bee Garland. On May 10th the men were mustered out of the service at the Presidio, getting their final payments.
Jack Bee Garland got an apartment in San Francisco and continued to work as a journalist. He was incredibly passionate about the issues of poverty and homelessness in the city. He often provided money, food, and lodging to people in need.
On April 18, 1906, an earthquake shook San Francisco and tremendous fires overtook the city. The army took over the task of rationing food, tents, blankets and more. Of the 400,000 people living in San Francisco at the time, 250,000 became homeless in three days. Seventy thousand people camped in the Presidio, while others found open space around the city. Garland, at age thirty-seven, worked again as a male nurse with the Red Cross. Many were injured and more were sick from lack of shelter and warmth. Jack Garland was acknowledged by General Funston for his contributions and tremendous support to the relief effort.
Jack Bee Garland continued his life as a journalist and philanthropist until he suddenly collapsed on the sidewalk in San Francisco in 1936 at the age of sixty-six. He was rushed to the hospital and treated for intrabdominal lesions. Friends visited him at the hospital, calling him “Uncle Jack”. He died the next day. It was only during his autopsy that many people learned of his transition. The press disclosed his identity, and his family and friends were bombarded with questions.
The day after his death his friend Mary Haines asked the War Department to have Garland buried in the Presidio with military honors for his work as a solider. Since no records existed of his service, the request was denied. Garland was buried in an unmarked grave in a cemetery near family.
Source: Sullivan, Louis. From Female to Male: The Life of Jack Bee Garland. Alyson Books, 1990.
*Louis Sullivan’s biography utilizes different pronouns for Garland based on media coverage and how Garland wrote about himself at different points. This article intentionally uses him/him pronouns.