Provocative Facts About Josie Mansfield, A Professional Gold Digger

March 19, 2024 | J. Clarke

Provocative Facts About Josie Mansfield, A Professional Gold Digger


Women have worked for decades to overcome unfair obstacles to making money. But as for the controversial Josie Mansfield, using womanly devices proved just enough to climb from a life of poverty to incredible levels of luxury. 


1. She Was An Original 

Born in Massachusetts in 1847, Josie Mansfield descended directly from John Alden, who came to America on the Mayflower centuries before. Although her ancestors arrived in America with deep, unshakeable religious values, Mansfield’s life turned out to be everything but pious. Perhaps it all started with her less-than-stable childhood.

Josie Mansfield

2. Her Family Fell Apart

During Mansfield’s early years, both her parents left her to pursue the California Gold Rush. She remained in the care of her relatives for several years, until some bad business led to her father's murder. After that tragedy, her uncle, Charles Mansfield took her and her mother in—and eventually became her stepfather. It only worsened life drastically for the young girl.

Portrait photo of Josie Mansfield leaning on a chair, wearing white dressCommunity Archives, Wikimedia Commons

3. She Wasn’t Safe

Unfortunately, Josie Mansfield's life with her uncle-turned-stepfather quickly became a nightmare. Her mother began drinking heavily and hit the town nightly. Meanwhile, her stepfather took an inappropriate interest in her. He used her to gratify himself and sold her to other men for the same purpose. Still, from the outside looking in, Mansfield appeared to be doing just well enough.

Sad desperate young girl suffering from bulling and harassment felling lonely, unhappy desperate and hopelessSB Arts Media, Shutterstock

4. She Made It Look Good

Everyone enjoyed Mansfield's company at school. She liked to dress especially provocatively for that era, much like her mother. But Mansfield’s mother took it too far. Her stepfather kicked them both out after finding love letters from her mother’s admirers. This seemed like a lifesaving move for Mansfield, but she headed into even darker circumstances.

Grayscale photo of a Junior High SchoolHarris & Ewing, Wikimedia Commons

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5. He Was Obsessed With Her

Mansfield and her mother took off to California, where they tried to settle into a new normal. Unfortunately, familiar problems arose right away. Their new landlord, James D Carter, found himself obsessed with Mansfield. He asked to marry the young girl, still just shy of 17. When her mother refused, he concocted another plan.

Grayscale photo of San Francisco Harbor with ShipsNational Archives at College Park, Wikimedia Commons

6. He Hid Her Away

Upon Mansfield's mother’s insistence on her daughter being too young for a marriage, Carter offered to tuck the girl away until she came of age. He used his own money to send Mansfield to a convent and pay for her keep. This devious plan might have worked, if not for the way Mansfield’s mother got right back to her old tricks…

Illustration of Notre Dame San JoseRiptide360, Wikimedia Commons

7. She Got Busy

While her daughter remained at the convent, Mansfield’s mother continued to play the field. She found herself entangled with a questionable man known for being a gambler, Richard Warren. All deals off, Mansfield returned to her mother, and to more chaos than she originally left behind. 

Grayscale Photo San Francisco in the late 19th century.Taber, I. W. (Isaiah West), Wikimedia Commons

8. He Couldn’t Keep His Eyes Off Her

While living with her new “father,” Warren, Mansfield caught the attention of a well-known English lawman, DW Perley. There’s absolutely no record of Mansfield having any interest in the older man at all. But Warren seized the opportunity to make some money at Mansfield’s expense. It didn’t quite go as he planned. 

Grayscale portrait photo of Josie Mansfield wearing a white dressCommunity Archives, Wikimedia Commons

9. He Forced Her

Allegedly, Warren made Mansfield get physically intimate with Perley. Once they completed the deed, he hopped out of his hiding place under their bed and put a pistol to the lawman’s head. He demanded five hundred dollars for his stepdaughter’s services, which Perley paid. To his dismay, though, Warren never actually got the money.

Photo of a Vintage bed, vase of flowers in front.Gary J. Wood, CC BY-SA 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

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10. He Fell For It

Perley paid Warren with a check. You can probably guess what happened next. Perley went straight from Warren’s residence to the bank and immediately put a stop payment on the check. So whenever Warren headed in to get his cash, he got a whole lot of nothing. Money lost turned out to be the least of his worries, though.

Grayscale Photo of California Bank, N.W. San FranciscoNew York Public Library, Wikimedia Commons

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11. The News Came Out

Seemingly, Perley didn’t think keeping his money was enough. He revealed the entire scandalous affair to newspapers, and the story became the talk of the city. He went a step further, though, claiming Warren planned it with the Lawlor Family. An unexpected accusation? Yes. But a certain Lawlor actually did step in at that point.

Piles of bundled newspapers on the floor.Joe Gingerich , Pexels

12. She Chased Him

Enter actor Frank Lawlor, who insisted he’d been away in another state when the whole thing took place, and claimed no one could possibly accuse him. According to his story, Mansfield herself pursued him and told him all about the situation upon his return. She didn’t just tell all, though. She worked her angle to get what she wanted

.San Francisco Opera HouseRoberto Arias, CC BY 2.0, Wikimedia Commons

13. He Tried To Save Her

Mansfield pleaded with Lawlor, telling him she desperately needed protection from Warren. Her solution? For the two to marry. They did just that in 1865, then promptly moved, ultimately making New York their home. If this seems like a happy end to a tragic, chaotic story, hold on tight. The most dramatic details are yet to come. 

Old Mulberry Street in New York CityLibrary of Congress, Wikimedia Commons

14. The Honeymoon Ended Early

Lawlor and Mansfield divorced the very next year. It’s not conclusive, but it definitely seems like Mansfield needed to get out of town, and she used Lawlor as her golden ticket. Finally on her own, she turned her attention to personal pursuits. She wanted a chance at the big stage, and chased an acting dream... but her dreams were bound to be crushed.

Grayscale photo of old Theater interiorNational Photo Company Collection, Wikimedia Commons

15. She Flopped (Hard)

Mansfield made absolutely no headway in the acting world. Just a year after her divorce, she found herself renting a small room she could barely afford, with just about nothing to her name. With seemingly no options left, and short on rent, Mansfield resorted to spending time at her friend’s house. It wasn’t just any old house, though.

Grayscale Photo of vintage small room interiorThe Library of Congress, Wikimedia Commons

16. She Used Her Assets

Annie Woods, the friend Mansfield spent copious amounts of time with then, lived in a brothel. Although there’s not necessarily any report of Mansfield servicing men there, it’s hard not to be suspicious of her activity. Regardless, she didn’t stay around too long. In 1867, just the right rich man walked in and changed everything.

Grayscale Photo of 5th Avenue looking south from 66th Street, New York CityUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

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17. She Caught His Eye

Jim Fisk, rich off of investments and railroads, first laid eyes on Mansfield in her friend’s “home”. He already carried a reputation for being a big spender when it came to the ladies. Reportedly, he easily gave out hundred dollar bills for what he deemed a pretty enough face. When it came to Mansfield, one hundred dollar bills just didn’t cut it. 

B&W portrait of  James Fisk - mid-19th centuryUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

18. She Played Hard To Get

Mansfield didn’t give in to Fisk’s attention right away. Instead, she played an impressive, long game. He pursued her for several weeks before she’d give him any attention. Considering his “giving” nature, we can only imagine what trinkets this pursuit included. After about three months, she finally gave him a chance, and got exactly what she wanted.

Screenshot of James Fisk (Edward Arnold) entering in room - from The Toast of New York (1937)RKO, The Toast of New York (1937)

19. He Fell Hard

On finally getting into Mansfield’s good graces, Fisk started doling out the big bucks right away. He not only paid off the rent where she lived at the time, but also promptly paid to put her up in a hotel. This could definitely be a romantic rags-to-riches story of a sort, if not for one extra detail about Fisk making it everything but. 

B&W portrait of  James Fisk - 1872Unknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

20. He Cheated

In the background of Fisk’s relationship with Mansfield stood what anyone else might consider a dealbreaker—his wife. Reportedly, his wife Lucy didn’t take any issue with his extramarital affairs. In fact, she had one of her own, but that’s a story for another day. Wife aside, Fisk held nothing back on spending when it came to his mistress.

Screenshot of James Fisk (Edward Arnold) looking upset - from The Toast of New York (1937)RKO, The Toast of New York (1937)

21. He Made It Rain

Mansfield eventually bought Mansfield a four-story house, with all the finishings and servants needed to keep it up to her liking. He also showered her in luxury jewels, dresses, and accessories. This made for a huge step up from Mansfield’s previous conditions. But if you thought all that might satisfy her, you thought wrong!

Screenshot from the movie The Toast of New York (1937), actress Frances Farmer as Josie MansfieldRKO, The Toast of New York (1937)

22. He Kept Her Fancy

As any good sugar daddy should, Fisk also kept Mansfield loaded with her own spending money. He funded her beauty habits too, reportedly funding posh hair and skin treatments regularly. I imagine you can assume what he got in return for all this. But if you can't, maybe one of his house design details will give you a clue.

Screenshot from the movie The Toast of New York (1937), actress Frances Farmer as Josie MansfieldRKO, The Toast of New York (1937)

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23. He Got His Sugar

When Fisk bought Mansfield’s house, he also ordered an extra $65,000 dollars worth of renovations. He insisted on adding a private passage connecting her house to the headquarters of Erie Railroads, which he owned and worked from. You can presume for yourself how handy he found it. Even so, things in their relationship didn’t always go smoothly.

Screenshot of James Fisk (Edward Arnold) smiling and looking at front - from The Toast of New York (1937)RKO, The Toast of New York (1937)

24. He Had His Own Rules

Even as he lavished Mansfield with all things expensive and luxe, Fisk kept certain boundaries when it came to where he wanted to be seen with her. On one occasion, Mansfield visited him at his job, likely unannounced. Entirely displeased, he scolded her behavior as thoughtless. But if he wanted their bond kept secret, he soon found himself out of luck.

Screenshot of James Fisk (Edward Arnold)  laughing - from The Toast of New York (1937)RKO, The Toast of New York (1937)

25. They Went Public

Just nine months into their fabulous affair, a local paper in Massachusetts released an article about Mansfield and Fisk. In it, they revealed all the sticky details, especially emphasizing the amount of money Fisk spent on Mansfield. From his prior behavior, we might think that Fisk’s worst nightmare. But worse issues with his “beloved” soon came to light.

Screenshot from the movie The Toast of New York (1937), actress Frances Farmer as Josie MansfieldRKO, The Toast of New York (1937)

26. Another Man Creeped In

It all started on January 1, 1870. Mansfield hosted a New Year’s Day Event, and invited a business partner, Edward Stokes. With his role running an oil refinery, Stokes boasted his own hefty wealth. And, honestly, that should’ve been Fisk’s first red flag. When he introduced Stokes to Mansfield, things soon went awry.

B&W portrait of  James Fisk - 1872Internet Archive Book Images, Wikimedia Commons

27. He Made It A Habit

After that initial meeting, Stokes began to visit Mansfield on a regular basis. The thought of another rich man visiting the house he bought for Mansfield didn’t sit well with Fisk at all. But even with all Fisk regularly provided for her, Mansfield found herself up to her old tricks. And this time, she got even trickier.

Screenshot from the movie The Toast of New York (1937), actor Cary Grant Edward Stiles StokesRKO, The Toast of New York (1937)

28. She Played Him

Allegedly, Mansfield tried to force Fisk to give her a certain amount of money by claiming she’d leave him for Stokes if he didn’t. Rather bold for a woman living a life she couldn’t actually afford, I’d say. Perhaps Fisk thought the same, since he simply refused her. However, Mansfield didn’t give up after that first attempt.

Screenshot of James Fisk (Edward Arnold) looking at front upset - from The Toast of New York (1937)RKO, The Toast of New York (1937)

29. She Dropped Him

Upon his refusal to comply with her wishes, Mansfield broke up with Fisk via letter in that same January of 1870. Although Fisk’s response to this isn’t explicitly reported, he likely felt some level of betrayal, all things considered. His solution? To go straight to the source of the problem—the other man. 

Screenshot of James Fisk (Edward Arnold) looking upset and pointing with finger - from The Toast of New York (1937)RKO, The Toast of New York (1937)

30. He Tried To Fix It

Fisk approached Stokes himself and requested his business partner end whatever relationship he had with Mansfield. Stokes refused, of the opinion that Mansfield should choose who she wanted to be with herself. That answer didn’t work for Fisk, who took the situation back to Mansfield. That didn’t work either.

Screenshot from the movie The Toast of New York (1937), actor Cary Grant Edward Stiles StokesRKO, The Toast of New York (1937)

31. She Wanted It All

When Fisk tried to get his ex-mistress to leave Stokes in the dust, she declined. Mansfield insisted all three of them should continue to be friends. That response didn’t work for Fisk, who said, “You can’t run two engines on one track in contrary directions at the same time”. He’d soon learned not to underestimate her. 

Screenshot of James Fisk (Edward Arnold) smiling at camera - from The Toast of New York (1937)RKO, The Toast of New York (1937)

32. They Did Their Own Thing

From the outside looking in, Mansfield and Fisk appeared somewhat satisfied to carry on an on-again off-again relationship. Mansfield continued to see Stokes, and Fisk continued to see other women as well, including a famous French singer. But perhaps they did all that for show, as their issues escalated to levels too serious to ignore. 

Screenshot of James Fisk (Edward Arnold) smiling at camera - from The Toast of New York (1937)RKO, The Toast of New York (1937)

33. She Got Sneaky

Now in no position to get any additional money out of Fisk, Mansfield took to other measures to get what she wanted. She gave all the love letters Fisk wrote to her over to Stokes. It’s not clear what exactly she wanted him to do with that information, but they’d come in to play later, as their twisted love triangle soon found its way into courts.

brown envelop on table, fountain pen on topJohn-Mark Smith, Pexels

34. They Got Lawless

The three found themselves involved in several court proceedings against each other. In one case, Mansfield sued Fisk for libel. She accused him of falsely stating she and Stokes conspired together to get money out of him. There’s no news on the outcome of this lawsuit, but Fisk didn’t take the allegation lying down.

  Grayscale Photo of Jury box in courtroom at small courthouse with wooden chairsehrlif, Shutterstock

35. Their Deal Went Bad

As you can imagine, the situation with Mansfield bled into the business affairs of the two men. In 1871, Fisk started to seriously interfere with Stokes’ refinery. He used his position and wealth to literally take over the refinery, putting injunctions in place to keep Stokes and Stokes’ mother offsite. And that wasn’t all he did. 

Screenshot of James Fisk (Edward Arnold) laying and looking at side - from The Toast of New York (1937)RKO, The Toast of New York (1937)

36. He Took Him To Court

Fisk went another step farther, accusing Stokes of embezzlement and having him taken into custody. Although his actions are up to interpretation at this point, it seems to me like Fisk did this all out of revenge. He couldn’t control Mansfield, so he took it out on the object of her interest—Stokes. It only added fuel to both their fires.

Screenshot from the movie The Toast of New York (1937), actor Cary Grant as Edward Stiles StokesRKO, The Toast of New York (1937)

37. It Wasn’t Good Enough

Ultimately, courts saw right through Fisk’s behavior. In compensation, authorities ordered him to dish out a ten thousand dollar payment to Stokes. But Stokes didn’t feel that the court served him justice. He decidedly took things into his own hands. Remember those love letters he got from Mansfield? He thought it time to pull them out.

Brown Wooden Gavel on Brown Wooden TableEKATERINA BOLOVTSOVA, Pexels

38. He Wanted His Due

Stokes pressured Fisk to give him more money, promising to reveal all the love letters unless he did. Fisk, however, ordered an injunction preventing Stokes from putting his information in print. This left Stokes with nothing but his ten thousand dollar payout, not to mention his relationship with Mansfield. But, alas, neither the money or the girl satisfied his contempt.

Screenshot of James Fisk (Edward Arnold) seating and talking with other man in train- from The Toast of New York (1937)RKO, The Toast of New York (1937)

39. He Waited For His Moment

Stokes needed to make Fisk pay. He knew Fisk well, including the places he frequently visited. He bided his time, and when his opportunity came for revenge, he took it with full force. It began on a fateful day in January 1872, when Fisk headed to the Grand Central Hotel. He didn’t know it’d become his last visit. 

Grayscale photo of the Grand Central HotelNew York Public Library, Wikimedia Commons

40. He Took Him Down

Stokes waited for Fisk’s arrival at the ladies entrance of the hotel, knowing he always came in that way. As soon as Fisk stepped in, Stokes shot him twice. Fisk passed the very next day from his wounds, but not without clearly naming the perpetrator. And despite the shocking end of Fisk’s involvement, the dramatic story didn’t finish there.

Screenshot of James Fisk (Edward Arnold) standing and laughing - from The Toast of New York (1937)RKO, The Toast of New York (1937)

41.  The Truth Came Out

Only one week after Fisk’s shocking end, the paper revealed the torrid affair of Mansfield and Fisk in its detail. The New York Herald published thirty nine letters that Fisk sent to Mansfield during their relationship. They detailed the entire romance, including the fury he felt towards Stokes. And yet, none of that kept Mansfield from her real goal.

Wax seal next to a bundle of old lettersAnneka, Shutterstock

42. She Wanted The Money

There’s no record of any grieving time on Mansfield’s part, though perhaps that’s not for anyone to say. Still, if actions do speak louder than words, I’ll simply point to her next move. She sued Fisk’s wife for two hundred thousand dollars. She insisted Fisk owed her the money, and demanded pay. However, her “luck” finally ran out.

Old Court Room, San Mateo County History MuseumEd Bierman, Flickr

43. They Hated Her

Not only did Mansfield lose her lawsuit, but she also became notorious for her involvement in Fisk’s death. The public’s low opinion of her basically made her a social pariah, and not passively either. People shamelessly cajoled her in public spaces. And the shame didn’t only exist in Massachusetts, either. It followed her everywhere.

Pile of folded newspapersMike van Schoonderwalt, Pexels

44. She Couldn’t Get Away

Later that year, courts ordered her to testify about Fisk’s personal affairs in New York. The entire visit proved embarrassing. Two first class hotels refused to give her a room. Even worse, when she went into court, some women purposely walked out, offended by her presence. Still, she managed to continue her shenanigans even then. 

Judge gavel on tableBrAt82, Shutterstock

45. She Found Another

The very next year, Mansfield raised another wave of gossip when she found herself in a relationship with Ella Wesner. Wesner performed as a male impersonator on stage. As such, it brought the nature of her relationship with Mansfield into question. The gossip got even hotter when the two made a surprisingly sudden move.

Grayscale photo of Ella Wesner, Gilded Age male impersonatorNapoleon Sarony, Wikimedia Commons

46. They Escaped Together 

Mansfield and Wesner took off to the city of love—Paris, France. News about their relationship spread quickly throughout American cities. It doesn’t seem either woman explicitly confirmed their relationship as romantic, perhaps because most people considered it taboo at the time. Regardless, the fire didn’t burn very long. 

Grayscale Photo of Eiffel Tower and park in ParisUnknown Author, Wikimedia Commons

47. She Kept Trying

In just about a year, the romance with Wenser ended, leaving Mansfield to her own devices. She returned to New York, though seemingly without much to come back to. She didn’t just give up, though. In fact, by 1891, Mansfield found another person to connect herself to romantically. And as you’ll see, she maintained a certain “type”.

manhattan 1900 picturesInternet Archive Book Images, Flickr

48. She Did It Again

This time, Mansfield married an American lawyer. Though he held far less riches than her prior suitors, his status remained. Even so, she couldn’t make it last. They divorced four years after their marriage. Now nearly in her 50s, she seemed content to remain alone. The gossip mills just refused to let her be, though. 

grayscale close up photo of wedding ringsMegapixelstock, Pexels

49. They Obsessed Over Her

As she aged, papers continued to write their theories about her life. Some claimed she lived in poverty with a sibling, while others claimed she lived paralyzed on one side. Neither proved true, as reports revealed she lived relatively healthy and never had siblings. Eventually, though, her end did come, and in the saddest way.

 Screenshot of Josie Mansfield (Frances Farmer) smiling - from The Toast of New York (1937)RKO, The Toast of New York (1937)

50. She Had A Lonely End

In 1931, Mansfield visited a department store. It became the last time she visited anywhere. She collapsed in the store, and passed from stomach cancer the same day at a nearby hospital. Only three people attended her funeral, which honestly is a shame considering the way everyone paraded her story around for their own enjoyment her entire life.

Purple Crocus in Bloom during Daytime in a graveyardPixabay, Pexels


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