Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
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Monday, December 25, 2017

Jennie Hodgers Becomes Albert Cashier

Albert Cashier/Jennie Hodgers (born 25 December 1843)

When reporter Ida Tarbell queried the Adjutant General's Office in 1909, asking whether any women had participated in the Civil War, the answer she received from the U. S. Army was unequivocal. According to the Records and Pensions Office,
. . . no official record has been found in the War Department showing specifically that any woman was ever enlisted in the military service of the United States as a member of any organization of the Regular or Volunteer Army at any time during the period of the civil war. It is possible, however, that there may have been a few instances of women having served as soldiers for a short time without their sex having been detected, but no record of such cases is known to exist in the official files.
And yet, as you might have guessed, that response was not quite true. By 1909, as DeAnne Blanton writes in an essay for the National Archives, the Adjutant General's Office did indeed have more than ample documentation of "the service of women soldiers."

Albert Cashier in his army uniform
According to the website of the Civil War Trust, there are  over 400 documented cases of women disguising themselves as men in order to fight for the Union and Confederate armies during the Civil War.

I've already posted about one of these four hundred women, Sarah Emma Edmonds, who returned to her life as a woman after the end of the war, eventually marrying. She was even granted a pension in 1886 for her service as a soldier. She is now hailed not only for her military service but as a significant figure in GLBTQ history.

Today's post highlights an equally complex figure, Albert Cashier, who has now been recognized for his role as "a transgender pioneer." He is featured in the We've Been Around documentary series of short films celebrating the lives of just a few of these remarkable men and women. (For the film on Albert Cashier, click here.)

Born Jennie Irene Hodgers in Ireland on 25 December 1843, Cashier was generally evasive about his early life and, when pressed, produced contradictory details and stories.

According to some much later accounts, the young Jennie dressed as a boy in order to find work--frequently this cross-dressing is attributed to Jennie's stepfather, who needed the child's income to support the family after the boy's mother had died.

Newspaper stories at the time of Cashier's death reported that he had arrived in New York as a stowaway, though the year of his arrival in the United States is not clear. According to many accounts of his life, Cashier was eighteen when he arrived in the United States from Ireland.  

Once in the country, Cashier found a home in Belvidere, Illinois, and lived there as a man, supporting himself as a laborer and farmhand. 

On 6 August 1862, Cashier enlisted in the 95th Illinois Infantry, Company G, as Albert D. J. Cashier, serving three years. As part of Grant's Army of the Tennessee, Company G fought in some forty battles, including the battle of Vicksburg, where Cashier fought well. (The Illinois 95th traveled nearly 10,000 miles during the war.)

In May, 1863, Private Cashier participated in the Siege of Vicksburg, during which time he was captured while performing a reconnaissance mission. He escaped by wrestling a gun away from a Confederate and was chased on foot, narrowly reaching the safety of the Union lines.
After Vicksburg, Cashier's exploits continued. In Jean Freedman's account,
[Cashier] served in Gen. Nathaniel P. Banks’s Red River campaign in the spring of 1864, marching for miles in the Louisiana heat; by December of that year, [he] was in Nashville, fighting with the Army of the Cumberland in its hard-won victory over John Bell Hood’s forces. [His] final combat experience came during the siege of Mobile, Ala., a fight that did not end until after Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox Courthouse.
Along with the rest of his regiment, Cashier was mustered out of the army at the end of the war, on 17 August 1865.

Cashier's headstone,
Sunny Slope Cemetery,
Saunemin, Illinois
Cashier continued his life as a man after leaving the army, returning to Belvidere, where he seems to have opened a gardening business with a fellow soldier.

About 1869, he relocated to Saunemin, Illinois, working as a farmhand and at a variety of odd jobs, including lamplighter, janitor, gardener, and chauffeur. As a man, Cashier voted in elections and claimed his army pension.

He lived productively and quietly for over forty years after the war--until an unfortunate accident in 1911. While working on an automobile for a former employer, Cashier broke his leg and had to be hospitalized. Although his female body was discovered by the doctor who treated him, the doctor agreed to keep his anatomical "secret."   

Cashier was transferred to the Soldiers and Sailors Home in Quincy, Illinois, where his identity was also respected. Although his story eventually leaked out, he continued to be visited and supported by members of his former military company, and public pressure ensured that his pension continued to be paid. (For a deposition providing testimony about Cashier's military service, evidence taken after Cashier's complex sexual identity had been revealed, click here.)

But his story was picked up and published in several newspapers, and by 1913, suffering from declining physical and mental health, Cashier was judged to be "insane," transferred to Watertown State Hospital for the Insane. As Jason Cromwell writes in Transmen and FTMs: Identities, Bodies, Genders, and Sexualities, the commitment "seems dubious at best."

There he was placed in the women's ward and forced back into female garments--so restrictive and cumbersome to Cashier, in his physical decline, that he tripped and broke a hip. Never recovering from his accident, he died on 10 October 1915, six months after entering the mental hospital.

Frequently moved and much restored,
Albert Cashier's home,
Saunemin, Illinois
Cashier was given a funeral with full military honors in East Moline.

His body was returned to Saunemin, where he was buried in his uniform, his headstone reading, "Albert D. J. Cashier, Co. G, 95 Ill. Inf."

In the 1970s, another headstone was provided for his grave, adding to Cashier's name his long-discarded birth name, "Jennie Hodgers."

Albert Cashier is the subject of a musical, The Civility of Albert Cashier, now in development For information about the musical in progress, click here.

Update, 24 January 2022: Some of the music from The Civility of Albert Cashier can be heard on SoundCloud.