Non-conformity: cross dressers

{See also Biogs of cross dressing women}

{See also Female soldiers}

{See also Female sailors}

{See also Cross dressing women press cuttings I}

{See also Cross dressing women press cuttings II}

Women have been dressing as men for various reasons, even though it appears to be illegal, judging by the existence of court reports that show women being charged with 'assuming male attire' (and men being charged with 'assuming female attire'). There were various reasons for women to cross-dress: to get a man's job at a man's wage; to join the army or navy; to ensure anonymity or avoid recognition; to go where it would be unsafe for a woman; to evade creditors; as an outward sign of lesbianism; to marry a woman. According to Julie Wheelwright It wasn't until the obscenity trial of Radclyffe Hall's The Well Of Loneliness in 1928, however, that cross-dressing and lesbianism became inextricably linked in the public mind.

There were cases of a woman dressing as a boy in order to go to sea with her lover, she acting as his cabin boy. Occasionally a woman dressed in male clothes 'for a lark', in order to see if she could pass herself off as a man, and drink and smoke among them in a pub. Some women did so in order to effect a robbery or burgle a house (one in 1894 stole a yacht), male clothes being far more practical. In 1894 Dr Andrew-Bird was prevented from voting in the School Board elections because the name had been written without the hyphen, so she went home and changed into her husband's clothes. Read more ....

Some female crossdressers who were discovered

Thomas Barber (died 1658)

Thomasina Clarke (discovered c1665) Army Private Clarke served in the same regiment as her husband for nine years, until the birth of a son unmasked her. In 1655, Clarke was commemorated in an affectionate four-verse ballad, 'The Gallant She-Soldier', all the more remarkable for its composition during the strict Puritan era.

Jane Owen (discovered 1684)

Charlotte Charke (1713-1760)

Jean Clark (discovered 1794)

Paul Daniel (enlisted 1761) in the hope of being sent to Germany, where her husband was serving in the army. Detected by a sergeant.

Arthur Douglas (discovered 1757)

Mary East

Isabelle Gunn (1781-1861), Orkneys

Mary/Charles Hamilton (born 1721) 'Used vile and deceitful Practices, not to be mention'd' to convince his wife he was a man.

Phoebe Hessel (1713-1821)

Jane Meace (enlisted in army 1762)

Barbara Hill

Mary Ralphson (b1698) Scotland. A trooper who fought alongside her husband at Dettingen (1743) and Culloden (1746).

Arthur Douglas From January to May 1757 a woman, described as being about 5' tall and aged 19 served on board the ship Resolution.

Hannah Whitney Enlisted in navy 1756. In 1761 while in male attire, she was seized by a press-gang and sent with other victims to Plymouth prison. Served for five years as a marine. She revealed that she was a woman after she had been locked in a cell and became claustrophobic.

Mary Lacy (b1740) Served as a carpenter and shipwright on board navy vessels from 1759 to 1771 under the name of William Chandler.

Elizabeth Bowden disguised herself as a boy in 1807 and joined the British Navy, calling herself John Bowden. After being discovered to be female she remained on board as an attendant.

Tom Bowling enlisted in navy/army ca. 1787. A report in the Naval Chronicle in 1807 describes a woman who had served over 20 years as a bowswain's mate on a man-of-war.

Dr James Barry (1795-1865) Earned a degree at Edinburgh Medical School. She joined the British Army in 1813 and became the Surgeon General. Her gender was discovered after her death. in 1865.

William Brown

Mary Ann Riley, Ann Hopping and Jane Townshend. In 1847 the British government decided that Queen Victoria would award a Naval General Service Medal to all living survivors of the major battles fought between 1793 and 1840. Mary Ann Riley and Ann Hopping, who had been aboard the Goliath during the Battle of the Nile, and Jane Townshend, who was aboard the Defiance at Trafalgar in 1805, applied.

Anne Mills Dragoon who served and fought on His Majesty's frigate Maidstone in 1740: 'her prodigies of valour moved the whole crew to admiration'. A swashbuckling print of the era depicts her with a sword in one hand and a Frenchman's head in the other.

William Prothero The Captain's log for the 32 gun ship Amazon records that on 20th April 1761 'One of the marines ... was discovered to be a woman. She had done her duty on board nine months.'

Charles Waddall In 1771 this naval seaman was found to be a woman when she was being stripped for a flogging.

Margaret Thompson In 1781 Naval seaman George Thompson revealed that she was female after she had been sentenced to be flogged.

Mrs Coles In 1782 there was a report that she had served on several men-of-war as a sailor.

Margaret Catchpole (1762-1869) was discovered disguised as a sailor on a British warship in 1797. In 1779 a volunteer for the 81st Highland Regiment picked up at Drumblade, Scotland turned out to be a woman.

Hannah Snell (1723-1792) Dedicated website

Mary Anne Talbot (1778-1808).

Mary Reed (or Read) and Anne Bonnie (or Bonny) were sentenced to death for piracy in 1720.

An unnamed woman was tried in London in July 1777. She was dressed as a man and charged with marrying three women.

Mary Hamilton, whose life was immortalised in Henry Fielding's novel The Female Husband, disguised herself as James Howe and, with 'his' wife, ran the White Horse pub in Poplar for 36 years, even serving in local courts as a juryman.

James Allan's sex was discovered, in 1829 after she was killed in an accident while working as a timber sawyer. She had lived for 21 years with a 'wife' who claimed she never knew her husband was a woman.

Mary Dixon (served at the Battle of Waterloo)

Rebecca Anne Johnston (discovered 1807) Came from Whitby, was bound by her stepfather as a seven-year apprentice on a collier ship, but deserted after four years and was found living on the streets, dressed as a sailor. The stepfather had also bound her mother (name unknown)to a ship and she had died during the bombardment of Copenhagen.

S. Oram (discovered 1815)

Anne Jane Thornton (born 1818), Ireland

Christian Welsh nee Kavanagh. aka Mother Ross aka Christian Davies, Mrs Davi(e)s (1667-1739).

Mary Price, who 'married' fourteen women c1746

Miss Freelove of Essex, aka Blue-Eyed Patty, a female soldier 1800

William McDonald, sailor, 1814

Elizabeth/John Haywood, a female husband 1829

Jane Gallagher, sailor, reign of William VI

James Allen, a female husband 1829

Eliza Wright, a female husband 1834

Mary Anne Arnold, (b.1825) sailor, 1839

Ellen aka Charles Watts, sailor, 1841

Margaret Johnson, sailor, 1843

William Johns, sailor, 1846

Sophia Locke aka John Smith, a female cooper/tinker 1848

Anna Maria Curtis, a female husband 1850

Harriet/Harry Stokes, a bricksetter and female husband 1859

Unnamed female sailor, Newport 1859

Tom Stewart, female sailor, 1860

Thomas Green, a female husband 1861

Charlotte Petrie, female sailor, 1865

Fred Mitchell 1867

Thomas Brown, 1868

Billy, female sailor 1873

Josiah Stephenson, a female collier and husband 1894

Dr Andrew-Bird, only briefly a cross dresser 1897

Sophia Edwards, arrested for dressing in men's clothes

Flora Sandes Only one British woman is known to have served officially as a soldier in the First World War and to have fought the enemy. Flora Sandes was born to a clergyman, in the village of Thornton Heath in 1876, and left London in 1914 to join an ambulance unit in Serbia on the Eastern Front with 36 other nurses. Eighteen months on, she was nursing "between shots". Her service was recognised: she became a sergeant-major in the Serbian army, later rising to the rank of major, and was awarded the distinguished Order of Karageorge. In 1916 Sandes wrote her extraordinary memoir, An English Woman-Sergeant in the Serbian Army, principally to raise funds for the Serbian forces. At one point during the war, she recounted: "I had only a revolver and no rifle of my own at that time, but one of my comrades was quite satisfied to lend me his and curl himself up and smoke."

More cross dressers, on Rictor Norton's site

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All pages © Helena Wojtczak 2009. Corrections and additions are warmly welcomed. Email me