"She was just a badass," historian Alexis Coe said when describing Stephanie "Madame Queen" St. Clair, the first subject of The Wing's new podcast No Man's Land. The six-part series highlights the lives of dynamic women in history whose stories of perseverance, radicalism, and ownership deserve a deeper dive than what may be in your average textbook.
Madame Queen, or "Queenie" as she was also called, came to New York City in 1914 from the Caribbean at around the age of 28, as noted by Coe who researched her life in depth. It is thought that she worked as a seamstress because of her penchant for stylish dresses, but at some point, she turned to taking bets or "running numbers" in the underground gambling rings of Harlem. Successful women runners were called "madames" but the confident, 5'9" woman with a thick West Indian accent became so skilled at working the illegal lottery system that she was called Madame Queen.
St. Clair prospered because she fairly paid people their winnings and at the height of her career she was worth $500,000 ($7 million today), created the Policy Bank illegal lottery system, had a bloody rivalry with crime boss Dutch Schultz, and arranged monetarily-based protection with law enforcement. As the only woman to be a crime kingpin of New York City at the time, St. Clair is also created as facilitating the crime career of Ellsworth "Bumpy" Johnson, one of the most notorious gangsters of the era who initially served as her faithful bodyguard.
Empowering Black people was also her passion, as Queenie was known to buy full-page ads to inform Harlemnites about police brutality, voting rights, and civil liberties.
Queenie found herself in jail only twice in her lifetime. After the second jail sentence, having been arrested for shooting her religiously-militant husband Sufi Abdul Hamid, she essentially fell off the map—and what happens next is revealed in the podcast.
Produced by Peabody-winner Ann Heppermann from Pineapple Street Media and hosted by Coe, with historical contributions from Sex Workers, Psychics, and Numbers Runners author Lashawn Harris, the first episode of No Man's Land is available on iTunes and Spotify.