Lobdell, Lucy Ann
LOBDELL, Lucy Ann
LOBDELL, Lucy Ann (b. 1829; d. 1890/1891?), hunter, writer.
Lucy Ann Lobdell has the distinction of being one of the first subjects of an American medical article on female–female sexual relations, Dr. P. M. Wise's "Case of Sexual Perversion" (1883). Lobdell, a nineteenth-century cross-dresser, would perhaps have dubbed herself "transgender" had she lived in the modern era. Wise described her as having a "coarse voice and masculine features" and observed her "dressed in male attire" and "declar[ing] herself to be a man." He claimed too that Lobdell insisted she "possesses [the] virility … of a male" and "has the power to erect [her clitoris] in the same way a turtle protrudes its head."
What Wise failed to observe in the 1880s, when he was a doctor and she an inmate at the Willard Asylum for the Insane in New York, was what a vibrant person she had been before the onset of severe manic depression, which kept her in the asylum for more than ten years until her death. Fortunately, Lobdell had already recorded the story of her younger years in a forty-seven page self-published autobiography, Narrative of Lucy Ann Lobdell, the Female Huntress of Delaware and Sullivan Counties (1855).
Lobdell, born in Westerlo in upstate New York, was the daughter of a lumberman. From her earliest years she was a wanderer in the woods and a hunter. She also regarded herself as an accomplished violinist and something of an intellectual, who loved debating with the neighborhood ministers. In her autobiography Lobdell describes several suitors to whom she had been sympathetic, including George Washington Slater, whom she finally married and with whom she had a daughter, Helen. (In Lobdell's much later interviews with Dr. Wise she denied ever being attracted to a man.)
In any case, her first experience of transvestism occurred in the course of Slater's courtship of her. Because Lobdell's father disapproved of him, Lobdell ran away from home to see him, stealing her father's horse and donning her brother's clothes. In her autobiography, she presents her situation as high adventure. She is exhilarated later when a gentleman comes across her in the woods where she goes to hunt and mistakes her for a young man. She quotes his newspaper article about their encounter at length: "Her nether limbs were encased in a pair of snug-fitting pants, and a pair of Indian moccasins were upon her feet. She had a good-looking rifle upon her shoulder, and a brace of double-barreled pistols in the side-pockets of her coat, while a most formidable hunting knife hung suspended by her side." The writer attests to her astonishing shooting skills as well as her phenomenal energy and strength. He describes her inviting him to the family home, changing into a dress, serving tea, and "plying her needle in the most ladylike manner."
In her later life, Lobdell clearly eschewed those latter activities. When her husband became abusive, she left him, though she was pregnant with their daughter. She lived for a time with her parents, then left the daughter with them and went out into the world to earn a living. Her explanation of her transvestitism at this time is a strong early feminist statement: "I made up my mind to dress in men's attire to seek labor, as I was used to men's work. And as I might work harder at housework, and get only a dollar per week, and I was capable of doing men's work, and getting men's wages, I resolved to try….If [awoman] is willing to toil, give her wages equal with that of man….Secure her to her rights." Lobdell spent severalyears as a trapper and hunter in northern Minnesota, living among Native Americans as a man.
The rest of her story can only be gleaned from medical accounts. In ill health, Lobdell left her life in the woods and went to Pennsylvania, where she ended up in an almshouse because she was unable to support herself. There she met Maria Perry, a woman "of good education," according to Dr. Wise, who had been deserted by her husband and was destitute. The two women left the almshouse together. Lobdell assumed the name "Joseph Israel Lobdell" and passed as a man (sometimes as the Reverend Joseph Lobdell, a Methodist minister). Lobdell and Perry lived together "as husband and wife, "Wise says, for twelve years, making a home in the woods where Lobdell worked as a hunter and trapper.
Contradictory stories are extant about how Lobdell's sex was discovered, but the record is clear that she was arrested in a village and sent to jail as a "vagrant." She was released after four months, according to one version of the story, because Perry petitioned for her freedom in an eloquently penned plea. Two or three years later, Lobdell was again in an almshouse, from which she was committed to the Willard Asylum. Wise claimed that when she was admitted "she was in a state of turbulent excitement…of an erotic nature and her sexual inclination was perverted. In passing the ward, she embraced the female attendant in a lewd manner and came near overpowering her before she received assistance." He also observed during her incarceration at Willard that she had "repeated paroxysmal attacks of erotomania [excessive sexual desire] and exhilaration …followed by corresponding periods of mental and physical depression."
Ten years later, in 1890, shortly before her death, a doctor's log book at the Willard Asylum recorded that "she has gotten over her old ideas. Has been quiet and orderly for some months past."
Katz, Jonathan Ned. Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the United States. New York: Harper and Row, 1985. Originally published in 1976.
Kiernan, James G. "Original Communications … Sexual Perversion." Detroit Lancet 7, no. 11 (May 1884): 482–483.
Lobdell, Lucy Ann. Narrative of Lucy Ann Lobdell, the Female Huntress of Delaware and Sullivan Counties. New York: 1855.
Wise, P. M. "Case of Sexual Perversion." Alienist and Neurologist 4, no. 1 (January 1883): 87–91.
see alsomedicine, medicalization, and the medical model; prisons, jails, and reformatories: women's; psychology, psychiatry, psychoanalysis, and sexology; transsexuals, transvestites, transgender people, and cross-dressers.