Mae Capone

Mary Josephine Capone (née Coughlin; April 11, 1897 – April 16, 1986), was an American woman who was married to the infamous gangster Al Capone.

Early lifeEdit

Mary Josephine Coughlin was born in Brooklyn, New York to Bridget Gorman and Michael (Mike) Coughlin on April 11, 1897.[1] Her parents immigrated to the U.S. from Ireland separately in the 1890s.[1] Michael was a laborer, Bridget did housework. They met in New York and were married. They had six children, Anna, Mary, Dennis, Catherine, Agnes, and Walter. Mae was born April 11, 1897, the second oldest and grew up in Brooklyn, New York at the edge of an Italian neighborhood.[1] She grew up to be tall, blond, and slender, and attended school until she started working as a sales clerk.[1] She went by the name of Mae for most of her life.

Family LifeEdit

Marriage and FamilyEdit

Mae Coughlin married Alphonse Capone on December 30, 1918 at the St. Mary Star of the Sea Church in Brooklyn, New York.[1][2] They either met at a party in the Carroll Gardens neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY, or their marriage was arranged by Al’s mother who knew Mae from church.[clarification needed][3][4][5] Mae was two years older than her husband. On their marriage certificate, Al increased his age by one year, and Mae decreased her age by two years, making them both appear 20 years old.[1][2] Despite the rivalry between Italian-American and Irish-American groups at the time, there is no evidence that Capone’s parents opposed their marriage.[1] It’s speculated that Al’s parents were probably in favor of the union, because for an Italian boy, an Irish wife was seen as a status symbol.[1] In addition to their differences in ethnicity, Mae was also more educated, more Catholic, and more middle class while her husband was less educated, and grew up in a rougher part of town.[3] Mae Capone remained a devoted Catholic throughout her entire life.[5]

Three weeks prior to their wedding, Mae reportedly gave birth to a son, Albert Francis “Sonny” Capone. The couple had no more children. As reported by Deirdre Capone, this was because Capone was sterile due to a birth defect. Other sources claim that she contracted syphilis from Al which caused each subsequent try for another child to end in miscarriage or stillbirth.[1] While most Al Capone biographies say that Mae Capone was Sonny’s biological mother[1][2], according to Deirdre Capone, a great niece of Al Capone, Mae Capone was not Sonny’s biological mother.[4] Sonny’s real mother had passed away in childbirth and Al’s mother, Teresa, had arranged for Capone’s and Al’s wedding so that Sonny would have a mother growing up.

From a young age, Sonny showed signs of being hard of hearing. This supposedly was because Mae had transmitted syphilis to him as well.[1] But she was a mother who took care of her son. When Sonny developed a mastoid ear infection, Al and Mae Capone traveled from Chicago, Illinois to New York to ensure he got the best care.[3][2] She also filed a lawsuit when her grandchildren were being bullied in school for being a Capone, following the release of the TV series, The Untouchables.

Involvement in Al's gang lifeEdit

 
Al Capone's cell

Capone was not involved in Al’s racketeering business.[1] Although she was affected by the actions Al took in dating other women while they were married. She once told her son, “not to do what your father did. He broke my heart." [4][6] Her hair also started to gray when she was 28, presumably due to stress regarding her husbands’ situation.[2] Al was ultimately sentenced to 11 years of imprisonment on October 24, 1931, and Mae was one of three people allowed to visit him in prison.[5] The other two were Al’s mother and son.[4] Mae remained a devoted wife, frequently sending letters to her husband, referring to him as ‘honey,’ and expressing her longing for him to return home.[4] She visited him in person as well, traveling up to 3,000 miles from the Capone's Florida home to Alcatraz, usually going to lengths to obscure her face in order to avoid the paparazzi.[5] From Al's imprisonment up until his death, Mae, along with Al's brothers and sisters, were in charge of his affairs: possessions, titles, and belongings.[7]

Al was finally released from prison and arrived at the Capones' Florida home March 22, 1940.[5] Mae was Al's primary caretaker following his release from prison. He died January 25, 1947 in their Miami, Florida home. He was buried in a Catholic cemetery in Hillside, Illinois.[8] Mae was distraught following his death, and remained out of public spotlight thereafter.

Financial Well-BeingEdit

 
The Chicago, Illinois Capone home

Al's racketeering business provided well for the family. Somewhere in the years between 1920-1921 he bought a home in Chicago, IL that housed Mae, Sonny as well members of the Capone family.[9] Mae and Sonny did not make the move from Brooklyn, New York to Chicago to join Al until 1923.[5][9] He also bought a second home for his family in Palm Isle, Florida. Mae had the liberty to decorate the home lavishly.[1] The family owned several cars: a couple of Lincolns and a custom designed cabriolet (similar to a Cadillac) that Mae herself drove.[1] They lived comfortably, and had enough money to pay off bill collectors when their bills were overdue.[2] They were once even burglarized at their Palm Island home. It was reported that an estimated $300,000 worth of Mae’s jewelry was stolen.[1]

Legal IssuesEdit

LawsuitsEdit

In 1936 the federal government filed a tax lien of $51,498.08 on the Capone's Miami, Florida estate. Having purchased the estate under Mae's name, and Al being in jail, Mae was left to deal with the lien. She paid it. In 1937, she filed a lawsuit against J. Edwin Larsen, the collector for the Internal Revenue Service, on claims that the tax lien money had been collected illegally. Her request for a refund of $52,103.30 was denied.[10][11]

 
The cast of The Untouchables

In 1959, Desilu Productions released a two part series called The Untouchables. The series was about prohibition agents fighting crime. In 1960, Capone, her son, and Al's sister, Mafalda Maritote, sued Desilu Productions, Inc., Columbia Broadcasting System and Westinghouse Electric Corp., for $6 million in damages. They claimed the series infringed on their privacy and had caused them humiliation and shame. Sonny Capone claimed that his children had been made fun of in school, so much that he was forced to pick up and move his family to another city. The federal District Court and Chicago Circuit Court rejected the suit. When the plaintiffs appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, their appeal was rejected as well on the basis that privacy rights are personal and do not extend to next of kin.[12][13][14][15]

DeathEdit

Capone died April 16, 1986 in a nursing home in Hollywood, Florida. She was buried in Florida.

Political background and contextEdit

Mae Capone and the prohibitionEdit

During Prohibition there was controversy among women concerning the 18th amendment. Organizations such as the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WTCU) supported the 18th amendment and fought to uphold it. This organization was viewed as being representative of all women and many assumed that women would stand united on this subject. However, this notion fell apart with the rise of The Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform (WONPR).[16] Both groups were centered around the protection of the home but had radically different opinions on how that could be accomplished. While the WCTU believed that the home needed to be protected from the influences of alcohol, the WONPR protested against the cultural effects of the prohibition. They saw the amendment as the cause of the increased crime and an attitude of resentment for the law.[17]

Though many believed that the 19th Amendment allowing women to vote would be the sustaining power behind the 18th amendment, Women were a highly influential force in overturning it.[18] During all this political unrest, Capone remained quiet. Despite being married to one of the biggest names in bootlegging, she did not voice an opinion on prohibition. She certainly benefited from the amendment, as it created the demand for her husband’s line of work, but never publicly took a stand on her feelings about the matter. Her experience may be reflected in the stories of other mothers of the era. Pauline Sabin, founder of the WONPR, stated that many of the members of the organization fought for reform because “they don’t want their babies to grow up in the hip-flask, speakeasy atmosphere that has polluted their own youth.[16] As far as exposure to this hip-flask culture, few were more exposed to it than Mae. Evidence suggests that she was concerned at the effect it might have on her son. It is reported that she actively discouraged her son Albert from following in his father’s footsteps.[4][6]

Mae Capone in the public sectorEdit

Many women during this era took the opportunity to step out of anonymity and take the public spotlight. Pauline Morton Sabin was a good example of this. She wasn’t politically active when it came to fighting for women’s suffrage, but once it was granted she took full advantage of it.[18] She became a vocal advocate for prohibition reform and helped create the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform.[17] On the other side of the issue we have Ella Boole, the president of WCTU. She was a bold political activist and even went so far as to tell congress that she “Spoke for all women!”[18] Mrs. Sabin was quick to refute this as were many others.[17] While many women during this time took the opportunity to be more vocal, Mae sought anonymity and shelter from the press. Even when other gangsters' wives were coming out and writing books about their experiences regarding being married to mob members, Capone did not write or publish anything for the public to read.[19] While other women fought to end prohibition, she fought for privacy.

In popular cultureEdit

LiteratureEdit

  • Josh Humphrey wrote a poem titled, "A Poem about Al Capone's Wife". The poem is written from Mae's point of view. It captures both the heartache and feelings of devotion she might have experienced.[20]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o Bergreen, Laurence (1994). Capone : the man and the era. New York: Simon & Schuster. ISBN 0-671-74456-9. OCLC 29877924.
  2. ^ a b c d e f Kobler, John. (9 October 2003). Capone; the life and world of Al Capone. New York. ISBN 0-306-81285-1. OCLC 149104.
  3. ^ a b c Moses, Paul (Professor of English) (3 July 2015). An unlikely union : the love-hate story of New York's Irish and Italians. New York. ISBN 978-1-4798-7130-8. OCLC 893452377.
  4. ^ a b c d e f Capone, Deirdre Marie. (2011). Uncle Al Capone : the untold story from inside his family. [United States]: Recap Pub. ISBN 978-0-9828451-0-3. OCLC 694911857.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Iorizzo, Luciano J., 1930- (2003). Al Capone : a biography. Greenwood Press. ISBN 978-1-4294-7386-6. OCLC 144559173.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ a b "From Mrs. Capone to Mrs. Corleone". Newsweek. 158 (2). Newsweek LLC. July 11, 2011. p. 56. Retrieved 13 Mar 2020.
  7. ^ "Al Capone Died 'Broke'; Wealth Held by Family". Chicago Daily Tribune. Feb 6, 1947. Retrieved 10 Apr 2020.
  8. ^ Kesmodel, David (20 July 2010). "Growing Up Capone: Mobster's Kin Go to the Mattresses --- Book About 'Uncle Al' Sparks Family Feud; Seeking to Exhume Body". The Wall Street Journal.
  9. ^ a b Mappen, Marc. (2013). Prohibition gangsters : the rise and fall of a bad generation. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press. ISBN 978-0-8135-6116-5. OCLC 852899302.
  10. ^ "Mrs. Al Capone Files U.S. Suit to Recover Tax". Chicago Tribune. Jul 15, 1937. Retrieved 10 Apr 2020.
  11. ^ "File Tax Lien Against Wife of Al Capone". Chicago Tribune. Aug 15, 1936. Retrieved 10 Apr 2020.
  12. ^ "Capone Heirs Lose Suit for Six Millions". Chicago Tribune. Oct 19, 1965. Retrieved 10 Apr 2020.
  13. ^ "Al Capone's Heirs Lose Suit Against TV Series". New York Times. Oct 19, 1965. Retrieved 10 Apr 2020.
  14. ^ "Al Capone Heirs Lose Privacy Plea". The Austin Statesman. Oct 18, 1965. Retrieved 10 Apr 2020.
  15. ^ "Suit Brought by Capone Heirs Dismissed: Judge Sees Need for Remedy in Such Cases". Chicago Tribune. June 17, 1964. Retrieved 10 Apr 2020.
  16. ^ a b Kyvig, David E. (1976). Women Against Prohibition. American Quarterly. p. 142.
  17. ^ a b c Nuemann, Caryn E. (1997). "The end of gender solidarity: the history of the Women's Organization for National Prohibition Reform in the United States, 1929-1933". Journal of Women's History. Johns Hopkins University Press. 9. doi:10.1042/cs056021pa.
  18. ^ a b c Kyvig, David E. (1976). "Women Against Prohibition". American Quarterly. 28 (4): 465–482. doi:10.2307/2712541. ISSN 0003-0678. JSTOR 2712541.
  19. ^ Winkeler, Georgette. (2011). Al Capone and his American boys : memoirs of a mobster's wife. Helmer, William J. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 978-0-253-00168-9. OCLC 747431738.
  20. ^ Humphrey, Josh (January 1, 2003). "A Poem about Al Capone's Wife". Paterson Literary Review. 32: 294–295 – via EBSCO.