It all started on 19 January 1889 in Greenpoint, Brooklyn with a wedding belle.
• • Sometime in the late 1880s... Jack was sidetracked from his ambitions [as a boxer] by a young German immigrant, Matilda Delker. Known by her friends as Tillie, she was the daughter of Christina and Jacob Delker, who were married in Germany in 1864. She was born in 1870, probably in Wurttemberg.... She arrived in the United States in 1882....
• • Several factors probably compelled the Delkers to leave Germany.... Anti-Semitism may have driven them out - - Mae had even the most discerning observers convinced that her mother was Jewish - - but by the time the Delkers reached America, they were Lutherans. It is more likely that they were drawn to the United States by economic success enjoyed by relatives....
• • [page 8] Tillie [Mae West's mother] met resistance as she aspired to follow in [Lillian] Russell's footsteps. An acting career for a newly arrived German girl... was a remote dream, especially with parents who forbade the pursuit of such a disreputable profession.... Mae claimed that Tillie secured a position as a "corset and fashion model," a profession accessible to an immigrant seamstress with unsteady English. If true, Tillie pursued this without her parents' consent. It was far from respectable; buyers were known to make sexual advances, and she could not have rejected their demands and kept her job long.
• • Matilda may well not have rejected them... young working-class girls of Tillie's generation, known as "tough girls," commonly rebelled against their parents' standards and experimented with premarital intimacy. In Tillie's adolescent world, crowded tenements and eroded parental supervision allowed young people to experiment with sex. The ritual of working-class dating, in which young male suitors footed the bill for their impoverished dates, often resulted in an exchange: cultural amusements for sex.
• • Ultimately, it would be Tillie who nurtured Mae, shaping her attitudes toward sex, men, and money. Mae recalled her parents battling over her early flirtations with boys. "My father used to want me to come home and all that, but my mother used to say, 'Oh, let her go, she can take care of herself.'" Mae recalled, "I guess she wanted me to learn all that right at the beginning." In many ways, Tillie was not only the motivator for Mae West's libertine ideals but the prototype for her sexually transgressive persona.
• • Tillie's youthful defiance soon met its end with Jack West. Initially, the couple formed a passionate bond.... Mae told an interviewer, "my father had swept her off her feet."
• • ... Jack and Tillie had much in common. Both rebelled against parental expectations, Jack through sports and Tillie through her dreams of a theatrical career. ...
• • On 19 January 1889, in Greenpoint, Battling Jack West and Tillie Delker took their wedding vows before a local minister with Jack's sister Julia West acting as maid of honor.
Source: Jill Watts, Mae West: An Icon in Black and White [NY: Oxford University Press, 2001], pages 4-9.
• • Photo: 27 April 1927 Mae West, leaving prison in New York, greeted by her mother