Gertrude Lythgoe: Female Rum-Runner

By Nene Adams on Saturday, July 27, 2013
distillery
“When I sell liquor, it’s called bootlegging; when my patrons serve it on silver trays on Lake Shore Drive, it’s called hospitality.” —Al Capone

In a Nutshell

During the Prohibition Era (1920-1933) in the United States, the import, sale, and consumption of alcohol was forbidden by law. Seemingly overnight, organized crime and bootlegging enterprises rose to meet the public’s demand for booze. One legendary rum-runner was Gertrude “Cleo” Lythgoe, known as the Queen of the Bahamas.

The Whole Bushel

While working in New York as a stenographer for a British importer/exporter when Prohibition was passed, the intelligent Gertrude Lythgoe was chosen to set up a wholesale liquor business operating from Nassau in the Bahamas. She began her enterprise on Market Street and lived in the Lucerne Hotel, known as a bootleggers’ headquarters. At the time, the area was a haven for shady types, criminals, rogues, colorful characters, and journalists.

Gertrude operated fearlessly in a male-dominated profession. On one occasion, on hearing herself and her goods had been bad-mouthed by a man, she marched into the barber’s shop, dragged the critic out—lathered face and all—and took him to her office where she promised to “put a bullet through him” if he didn’t stop. The man fled. Other men tried to intimidate her and found themselves threatened at gunpoint by the fierce, beautiful woman.

During her years of operation, Gertrude achieved celebrity status through popular newspaper stories about her exploits. Eventually, she left the Bahamas, retired from the bootlegging business, and returned to America. She died in 1974 at the age of 86.

Show Me The Proof

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Gertrude Lythgoe, Rum Fleet Queen, Again Arrested
The Bahama Queen: The Autobiography of Gertrude ‘Cleo’ Lythgoe