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1909 Woman Living as Man

Preface: Fascinating account of a woman who lived and worked as a man. During this era, there were many reports of women posing as men for employment purposes, however this case notes the young woman "courted" girls too.

By Havelock Ellis

In St. Louis, in 1909, the case was brought forward of a young woman of 22, who had posed as a man for nine years. Her masculine career began at the age of 13 after the Galveston flood which swept away all her family. She was saved and left Texas dressed as a boy. She worked in livery stables, in a plough factory, and as a bill-poster. At one time she was the adopted son of the family in which she lived and had no difficulty in deceiving her sisters by adoption as to her sex.

On coming to St. Louis in 1902 she made chairs and baskets at the American Rattan Works, associating with fellow-workmen on a footing of masculine equality. One day a workman noticed the extreme smallness and dexterity of her hands. "Gee, Bill, you should have been a girl." "How do you know I'm not?" she retorted. In such ways her ready wit and good humor always, disarmed suspicion as to her sex. She shunned no difficulties in her work or in her sports, we are told, and never avoided the severest tests.

"She drank, she swore, she courted girls, she worked as hard as her fellows, she fished and camped; she told stories with the best of them, and she did not flinch when the talk grew strong. She even chewed tobacco." Girls began to fall in love with the good-looking boy at an early period, and she frequently boasted of her feminine conquests; with one girl who worshipped her there was a question of marriage.

On account of lack of education she was restricted to manual labor, and she often chose hard work. At one time she became a boiler-maker's apprentice, wielding a hammer and driving in hot rivets. Here she was very popular and became local secretary of the International Brotherhood of Boiler-makers. In physical development she was now somewhat of an athlete.

"She could outrun any of her friends on a sprint; she could kick higher, play baseball, and throw the ball overhand like a man, and she was fond of football. As a wrestler she could throw most of the club members." The physician who examined her for an insurance policy remarked: "You are a fine specimen of physical manhood, young fellow. Take good care of yourself." Finally, in a moment of weakness, she admitted her sex and returned to the garments of womanhood.

Source: Ellis, Havelock, Studies in the Psychology of Sex, 1936 edition

Copyright Steven L. Brawley, 2007-2015. All Rights Reserved.