Historically Speaking

Making sense of it all!

Gold Digger

Posted by Elyse Bruce on April 14, 2015

Beware of gold diggers as the only interest gold diggers have lies in how much wealth other people have allegedly built for themselves that gold diggers can lay their hands on.  The focus of a gold digger is to  entrench himself or herself in the relationship with a primary focus of material gain for the gold digger.  Many mistakenly believe that gold diggers are only women, but gold diggers — being equal opportunity scammers and opportunists — can be male or female.

UPDATE 21 APRIL 2015:  The term is still in vogue as gold digger found its way into this TMZ article published online on April 21, 2015.

Lamar says he’s ecstatic with the ruling telling TMZ, “I want her to go on television and apologize the same way that she went on there and accused me of being a gold digger and tricking her into having a baby.

The Ottawa Citizen published a quick news article on March 16, 1983 about Canadian actress Erin Fleming (13 August 1941 – 15 April 2003) and American comedian Julius HenryGroucho” Marx (October 2, 1890 – August 19, 1977).  She was accused — by the Bank of America lawyer acting as the executor of the late comedian’s estate — of misappropriating nearly half a million dollars in gifts.  The lawyer was quoted by the journalist in the article.

“If she was only a gold digger it would have been all right,” Bank of America attorney Brin Schuman said, “but what she did was dig away at his heart, dig away at his soul, dig away at the man.”

Fifty years before that new story, the Milwaukee Journal edition of May 23, 1933 ran the story of the divorce trial between Eugenia Woodward Jelke (1905 – 1990) and her successful Wall Street broker husband, Ferdinand Frazier Jelke (5 February 1880 – 30 August 1953).  She, of course, was the daughter of Allan Harvey “Rick” Woodward (16 September 1876 – 23 November 1950) who was a successful mining engineer, president of Woodward Iron, and owner of the Birmingham Barons baseball team in Birmingham, Alabama, and Annie Jemison, daughter of Civil War era politician Robert Jemison (17 September 1802 – 16 October 1871).

It was a nasty divorce with a great many accusations being hurled back and forth between the parties.  He sued for divorce on the grounds of having been unfaithful to him and extreme cruelty; she sued for divorce on the grounds of extreme cruelty.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 1:  Judge Walsh denied each party’s divorce petition
on June 1, 1933 on the grounds that Mr. and Mrs. Jelke were equally guilty, and no one person was at fault for the breakdown of the marriage.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 2:  On April 21, 1934 it was reported by the media that Eugenia had moved to Nevada to become a resident so she could file for purposes of being able to legally divorce Frazier.  They had already signed a separation agreement months earlier.

INTERESTING SIDE NOTE 3:  After Eugenia divorced Frazier, she married William Hitt.

The reporter on this particular day sent a quick article back from the court room in Newport, Rhode Island, to his publisher, that began with this sensational paragraph.

Mrs. Eugenia W. Jelke testified at her divorce trial Tuesday that her millionaire husband caller her a “dirty little gold digger,” blackened her eye, threw her across a room, and threatened to knock out her teeth.

Just a few years earlier, the Milwaukee Journal published a news story on January 26, 1928 about a different kind of gold digger.  This one had been charged with grand larceny in the first degree.  Among many outrageous claims this gold digger had made was to state that American entrepreneur Marshall Field (18 August 1834 – 16 January 1906) — founder of Marshall Field and Company — was a close relation (an uncle, no less).  And he was male … not a successful swindler who was short and unremarkable looking.  The article began with this shocking revelation:

A jury composed largely of married men heard evidence Thursday against Robert Whitman, alias “Lord Beaverbrooke,” the masculine gold digger.  The leading prosecution witness to support the charge of grand larceny was Mrs. Rose Burken, who said the fictitious nobleman had robber her of jewelry valued at more than $70,000.

This wasn’t the first time he’d been arrested on charges such as these.  In fact, his reputation preceded him, and he was known to many police precincts.  How well-known was he?  According to the Dansville Breeze newspaper of Dansville, New York, this was published about the man in the March 21, 1928 edition.

Police of various cities who have been interested in “Lord Beaverbrook” have estimated that he has married from ten to fifty women in his 49 years of life and has profited hugely thereby.  Once when arrested in St. Louis while New York detectives were seeking him, he gave $15,000 cash bail and jumped it, immediately.  In court the other da he said he was born in San Francisco and “had loved on both sides of the continent.”

At the end of the trial, Robert Whitman was found guilty of grand larceny, having stolen $90,000 worth of jewels from Mrs. Burken.

American novelist, playwright, and Olympic water polo player, Rex Ellingwood Beach (1 September 1877 – 7 December 1949) published his novel “The Ne’er-Do-Well” in 1911.  Among many interesting twists and turns in his life, he found himself in Alaska in 1900 and for five long years, he was a prospector during the Klondike Gold Rush.  Being unsuccessful in this attempt, he turned to writing.

His second novel, “The Spoilers” was a novel inspired by real events he witnessed during his prospecting years, and he was rewarded for his efforts with a best-selling novel the year the novel was published.  But it was in his novel, “The Ne’er-Do-Well” that the term gold digger cropped up, in this context.

“Good heavens! You’ve told me so a dozen—”

“Ah! Then you have nothing except my word. Well, sir, now that I come to think it over, I believe my name is Locke, after all.” He grinned. “Anyhow, I love my little room and I think I’ll keep it. Please don’t be peevish. I want you to do me a favor.” He removed the ring from his finger, and, handing it to the Purser, said “I want you to get me two diamonds’ and a ruby’s worth of shirts and collars; and also a safety razor. My mind has stopped working, but my whiskers continue to grow.”

The officer managed to say with dignity: “You wish to raise money on this, I presume? Very well, I’ll see what can be done for you, Mr. Locke.” As he turned away, Kirk became conscious that the woman in the next chair had let her book fall and was watching him with amused curiosity. Feeling a sudden desire to confide in some one, he turned his eyes upon her with such a natural, boyish smile that she could not take offence, and began quite as if he had known her for some time:

“These people are money-mad, aren’t they? Worst bunch of gold-diggers I ever saw.” Surprised, she half raised her book, but Kirk ran on: “Anybody would think I was trying to find a missing will instead of a shirt. That purser is the only man on the ship my size, and he distrusts me.”

The woman murmured something unintelligible. “I hope you don’t mind my speaking to you,” he added. “I’m awfully lonesome. My name is Anthony, Kirk Anthony.”

Evidently the occupant of the next chair was not a football enthusiast, for, although she bowed her acknowledgment, her face showed that the name carried no significance.

However, in the “Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia” published in 1906, the definition under gold digger was this:

One who digs for or mines goldThis word is almost exclusively used to designate placer miners, or those who dig and wash auriferous detrital material (gravel and sand).  Those who are engaged in mining in the wild rock are called quartz miners.

While there is overlap between the mining term and the social term, that overlap happened sometime between 1906 and 1911.  As such, gold digger appears to have been first published in 1911 with the transition in meanings understood in the intervening five years between the dictionary definition and the new meaning.

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