“People are complicated” is a truism that holds in the past and the present. Seldom do we find a person where all of their actions and thoughts are black and white. What we see instead is that people are colorful because they aren’t just one thing and they don’t think and act in one way.
Human identities are one area where we find a lot of colorfulness and complexity. Most humans have multiple identities based in geography, nationality, religious affiliation, race and ethnicity, and also gender.
Jen Manion, a Professor of History and of Sexuality and Women’s and Gender Studies at Amherst College and author of the book, Female Husbands: A Trans History, joins us to investigate the early American world of female husbands, people who were assigned female at birth and then transed gender at some point in their lives to live as men.
About the Show
Ben Franklin’s World is a podcast about early American history.
It is a show for people who love history and for those who want to know more about the historical people and events that have impacted and shaped our present-day world.
Each episode features a conversation with a historian who helps us shed light on important people and events in early American history.
Ben Franklin’s World is a production of Colonial Williamsburg Innovation Studios.
Jen Manion, a Professor of History and of Sexuality and Women’s and Gender Studies at Amherst College, joins us to explore the history of queer and gender-non-conforming culture in early America with details from their award-winning book, Female Husbands: A Trans History.
During our investigation into the history of female husbands in early America, Jen reveals how gender was experienced and understood in early American society; explains the term “female husband” and what it meant in the eighteenth-century British-Atlantic world; and considers why jobs in the military or sailing might have appealed to those who wanted to trans gender.
What You’ll Discover
- Why it can be difficult to uncover stories of individuals in early America who might have identified as LGTBQ+
- The origins of terms like gender and sexuality in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries
- How early Americans understood same-sex sexual relationships
- How gender was experienced and understood in early American society
- How race, class, and gender influenced the legal treatment of those who engaged in same-sex sexualities
- The lack of laws in early America that defined transing gender or cross-dressing as illegal
- Use of vagrancy laws to punish those who transed gender
- The term “female husband” and what it meant in the eighteenth-century British-Atlantic world
- How the term “female husband” changed by the end of the nineteenth century
- How late-nineteenth sexologist pathologized transing gender for the worst
- Anne Lister and her coded diary
- Charles Hamilton as the first widely published “female husband”
- What we know about Charles Hamilton’s real life
- 18th-century fiction writer Henry Fielding as the creator of the category of “female husband”
- How the authorities found out about Charles Hamilton and how they were punished
- Why jobs in the military or sailing might have appealed to those who wanted to trans gender
- Why Hannah Snell/James Gray and Deborah Sampson/Robert Shurtleff weren’t labeled female husbands by their communities
- Female Husband stories mainly appearing in newspapers rather than books or pamphlets
- Differences in how female husband were depicted in the British press versus American presses
Links to People, Places, and Publications
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- Episode 002: Cornelia King, “That So Gay” Exhibit at the Library Company of Philadelphia
- Episode 013: Rachel Hope Cleves, Charity & Sylvia: A Same-Sex Marriage in Early America
- Episode 080: Jen Manion, Liberty's Prisoners: Prisons and Prison Life in Early America
- Episode 266: Johann Neem, Education in Early America
- Episode 292: Craft in Early America
- Episode 309: Philip Reid, Merchant Ships of the Eighteenth Century
- Episode 354: John Wood Sweet, The Sewing Girl’s Tale
- Episode 357: Eric Jay Dolin, Privateering During the American Revolution
In your opinion, what might have happened if all of the individuals you identified as female husbands had been allowed to continue living their life and the gender they felt most comfortable with?
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