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Jean Bonnet

Born in Paris, Jean Bonnet moved to San Francisco with their family as part of a French theatrical troupe. By age fifteen, he got in trouble for fighting and petty thievery, and was placed in the Industrial School, San Francisco’s first reform school.

As an adult, Bonnet was arrested dozens of times for wearing male clothing and frequently mentioned in the press for it. According to the papers, he “cursed the day she was born a female instead of a male.” He was also quoted for saying, “The police might arrest me as often as they wish—I will never discard male attire as long as I live.”

Bonnet spent much of his time on Kearny Street and made a fairly good living by catching frogs and selling them to French restaurants in downtown San Francisco. Starting in 1875, he visited brothels and convinced the women to leave prostitution to form an all-female gang which supported themselves by shoplifting. One of these gang members, newly arrived from Paris herself, was Blanche Buneau or Beunon.

To keep Blanche safe from her ex-lover, Bonnet and Blanche moved to McNamara’s Hotel in San Miguel, just outside of San Francisco. But on the evening of September 14, 1876, Bonnet was lying in bed waiting for Blanche when a shotgun blast through the window killed him. Though unproven, it was believed that Blanche was the intended target, and the shooter was either a jealous lover or a pimp wanting to kill Blanche as “an example to the other girls.” Regardless, the women of San Francisco’s red-light district came out en masse for Bonnet’s funeral.


Boag, Peter. Re-Dressing America’s Frontier Past. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2011.

“Brevities.” Daily Alta California, December 17, 1875.

“By State Telegraph.” Sacramento Daily Union, September 16, 1876.

Mullen, Kevin J. “The Little Frog Catcher.” In The Toughest Gang in Town: Police Stories from Old San Francisco. San Francisco: Noir Publications, 2005.

Rupp, Leila J. A Desired Past: A Short History of Same-Sex Love in America. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

The San Francisco Lesbian and Gay History Project. “‘She Even Chewed Tobacco’: A Pictorial Narrative of Passing Women in America.” A slideshow based on primary research by Allan Bérubé. Edited and reprinted in Hidden from History: Reclaiming the Gay and Lesbian Past, ed. Martin B. Duberman, Martha Vicinus, and George Chauncey. New York: New American Library, 1989.

Zagria. “Jean Bonnet (1849–1876), Frog Catcher.” A Gender Variance Who’s Who: Essays on Trans, Intersex, Cis and Other Persons and Topics from a Trans Perspective. January 9, 2012.

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