Christine de Pizan

Christine de Pizan
The Writer Christine de Pizan at Her Desk

Sunday, March 25, 2018

Thomas/ine Hall, "Changed into the Fashion of a Man"

Thomas/ine Hall (appearance in court, 25 March 1629)

According to the records of a 1629 trial in the General Court of Jamestown, Virginia, Thomas Hall claimed to be both a man and a woman--but his/her neighbors were in some doubt. While some agreed that Hall was both man and woman, others claimed that Thomas was a man, still others insisting she was a woman.

The colony of Virginia, 1624
According to the testimony Thomas Hall offered on that occasion, he had been born "at or near Newcastle upon Tyne" around the year 1603. 

Under examination by a Virginia court, Hall said that he was christened as "Thomasine" and was dressed "in women's apparel" as a child. As a girl, she had been sent from Newcastle to live with an aunt in London when she was twelve years old. 

Hall spent the next ten years living in the city, continuing her life as a girl, then young woman, until an older brother was forced into military service, at which point Thomasine Hall became Thomas Hall. 

Thomas Hall testified that when he was twenty-two years old, he "Cut of[f] his heire and Changed his apparell into the fashion of man," following his brother into the British army and fighting in France in the 1627 campaign against Catholic suppression of the Huguenots.

Returning home after his stint in the military, Hall began living once more as a female, this time in Plymouth--in his words, he "'changed himself into woeman's apparell" and worked in female-dominated trades, making "bone lace" and doing "other worke with his needle." 

But then Hall moved on again, deciding to travel to the colony of Virginia; as Hall describes it, he once more changed "his apparel into the habit of a man and so came over into this country." Arriving in Jamestown, probably around 1627, when he would have been twenty-four years old, Hall seems once again to have lived and worked at least some of the time as a woman, before relocating to Warrosquyoacke, a small settlement across the river from Jamestown where tobacco planters were in need of workers--preferably male workers. In Warrosquyoacke, Thomasine Hall once again became Thomas Hall. 

This transformation triggered rumors among his neighbors (especially his female neighbors), particularly focused on Hall's sexuality, and there were reports of Hall's having "layen with a mayd of Mr. Richard Bennetts." 

To settle the case, Hall was examined first by a group of women, and after a physical "searching" of Hall's body, the three women agreed that "hee was a man." But John Tyos, Hall's "master," disagreed with these findings, insisting that the women were wrong and that Hall was, in fact, a woman.    

These conflicting views of Hall's sexual identity--and his body--produced the statement that confounded his initial examiner in Warrosquyoacke. When Hall was brought for further examination by Captain Nathaniel Bass, Bass asked Hall directly whether "he" were a man or, in fact, a woman. Hall replied "he was both man and woman."

At this point, Hall offered Bass a description of his genitals. He had "a peece of flesh growing at the . . . belly as bigg as the topp of his little finger [an] inch long," but that "hee had not the use of the man's p[ar]te." That is, he had a penis, but this penis did not work. Bass decided that, if Hall's penis didn't work, or work correctly, that physical evidence was decisive. Bass ordered Hall to wear women's clothing.

But Bass's decision didn't end the matter. While Hall's new employer, John Atkins, remained convinced that Hall was a woman, the women who had examined Hall weren't satisfied. The group examined Hall's body once more, this time without his consent. As Hall slept, the women inspected Hall's body, confirming their original findings: Hall was a man. And they went further, insisting that Atkins examine Hall's body for himself.

Yet Atkins seemed to be so convinced that Hall was a woman--and thus, certain that for him to examine "her" body was inappropriate--when the sleeping Hall (whom Atkins described as "shee") moved in her sleep, Atkins decided he couldn't remove a woman's clothing or inspect her body underneath her clothing and refused to investigate Hall any further. 

Since the case was still unclear, the group decided that there had to be a third inspection of Hall's body, to take place on the following Sunday. On this occasion, Atkins did inspect Hall's "peece of flesh," and after doing so, asked Hall "if that were all hee had." Perhaps Atkins, like Hall himself, doubted the significance of the small "peece of flesh." 

Hall then revealed to Atkins that he also had "a peece of an hole." Atkins told Hall to "shew" what he assumed was evidence that Hall was, indeed, a woman, but when the group was unable to find a vulva, Atkins concluded that Hall was, after all, a man, ordering him to "bee put into" men's clothing. 

Atkins also urged Captain Bass to punish Hall for his "abuse," and Bass decided to reverse his earlier ruling--he proclaimed Hall a man. Hall's situation was, if possible, even worse--now other members of the colony felt free to examine Hall's body for themselves.

Two men, Francis England and Roger Rodes, had heard that Hall, as a man, "had layen with a mayd," Bennet's servant named "Great Besse." (This is the rumor that had first triggered the investigation into Hall.) As Rodes said, "Hall thou hast beene reported to be a woman and now thou art p[ro]ved to bee a man, I will see what thou carriest." The two men wrestled Hall onto his back. As Rodes later testified, when he "felt the said Hall and pulled out his members," he found him to be "a perfect man."  

Unsure of what punishment Hall should suffer for his transgressions, officials in Warrosquyoacke sent Hall to the General Court in Jamestown--which decided not to inspect Hall's body. Instead, the Court decided to hear the testimony of Francis England and John Atkins and then to hear Hall's story as he told it.   

After listening to the evidence, the Court decided that Hall should be compelled to wear men's clothing--but that in addition to men's "breeches," he must also wear "a Coyfe and Croscloth with an Apron before him"--that is, that he, like a woman, must cover his head with a coif and that he wear a woman's garment, an apron, over his male clothing. 

Historian Kathleen Brown describes the final judgment of the Court:
Both the evidence gathered by the community and Hall's own historical narrative of identity figured in the General Court's sentence of Hall. Compelling Hall to don men's breeches, the court acknowledged the weight of the physical manifestations of sex that were of such importance to the diligent matrons of Warrosquyoacke. . . . But the court did not find the physical evidence or the sentence of an imposed (and permanent) male identity sufficient.
Thus his "identity" as a man was to be overlaid with signs of womanhood.  

On the one hand, this punishment seems not as harsh as it might have been. Fornication was a crime, but nothing came of Hall's purported sexual act with "Great Besse." Hall's possible sexuality was further confused when he told Francis England, who wanted to know why he sometimes dressed as a woman, "I go in woman's apparel to get a bit for my cat," by which he could mean that he "dressed as a woman in order to obtain sexual access to a man," or, as Brown suggests, that he dressed as a woman so he could earn money as a prostitute.

Hall could have been charged with an even more serious crime: cross-dressing was a capital offense, punishable by death. But Hall was not prosecuted for this crime either. 

On the other hand, the punishment ordered by the Court was not designed to accommodate Hall's identity as "both man and woman" but, rather to "publish" Hall's case so that "all the Inhabitants there may take notice thereof"--and, of course, to insure his "good behavior" until the Court decided to "discharge him." And the punishment meant Hall could no longer move back freely and freely between identities as male or female, as he might desire or circumstances, like employment opportunities, might dictate. Nor, dressed in this way, would Hall be able to maintain privacy within the community

After the 1629 General Court case, Thomas/ine Hall disappears from the record. 

For this account of Thomas/ine Hall, I have relied on Kathleen Brown's "Changed . . . into the Fashion of Man": The Politics of Sexual Difference in a Seventeenth-Century Anglo-American Settlement, Journal of the History of Sexuality 6, no. 2 (1995): 171-93. This essay, along with the original documents of the 1629 examination of Hall, is included in Kathy Peiss's Major Problems in the History of American Sexuality: Documents and Essays.

An excellent summary of the case and original documents is at Outhistory. 

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Catalina de Erauso, "the Lieutenant Nun"

Catalina de Erauso (escapes her convent, 18 March 1600)

According to her autobiography, Catalina de Erauso was born in 1585, although the surviving record of her baptism notes a date of 1592--just a small indication of the confusion about many of the details of her tumultuous, adventure-filled life.

But, really, even if Erauso has exaggerated (or even misrepresented) some aspects of her life, what a life it was!

Catalina de Erauso, c. 1626,
attributed to  Juan van der Hamen
Born in the Basque town of San Sebastián, Catalina was the daughter of Miguel de Erauso, a captain in the Spanish army, and of Maria Pérez de Gallarraga y Arce.

When she was four years old (she gives the year as 1589 in her autobiography), the girl and her two sisters were sent to be educated at the Dominican convent of San Sebastián el Antiguo, where her mother's sister was prioress. 

Catalina says nothing more about convent life, noting only that, when she was fifteen, she had a series of increasingly heated encounters with members of the community.

Finally, seeing a chance of escape, she took it, fleeing the convent on the night of 18 March 1600 and entering a world that she "had never seen before." 

At that point, she changed her identity. "I don’t know where I headed," she writes, "but I ended up in a chestnut grove out behind the rear of the convent. There I hid out for three days tracing and cutting clothing. I made myself a pair of trousers from a skirt of blue cloth that I had, and a shirt and leggings from the green shift that I wore underneath. Not knowing what to make of the rest of my habit, I left it there. I cut off my hair and threw it away."

From this moment on, Catalina de Erauso lived much, but not all, of her life as a man. Her decision seems at first purely practical, a way to avoid being identified and returned to convent life, but also a way to avoid the perils of traveling alone as a woman. At the same time, however, her life as a man seems also to correspond to other needs and desires as well. 

As you can well imagine, gender and sexuality scholars have focused a great deal of attention on the both the "real" life of Catalina de Erauso (as it can be reconstructed) and the written (and constructed) life of Catalina de Erauso, la monja alférez ("the lieutenant nun"). 

Catalina de Erauso first came to my attention in 1996, when Lieutenant Nun: Memoir of a Basque Transvestite Nun in the New World, translated by Michele Stepto and Gabriel Stepto, was published. In her introduction to the volume, gender theorist Marjorie Garber focuses the attention of the reader on difficulties of addressing questions of gender and identity in Catalina de Erauso's autobiography. "How can we assess the erotic, social, and political effects of cross-dressing at a remove of almost four centuries, in the context of a culture very different from our own, and as described in a Spanish-language text?" asks Garber. "The short answer, of course, is that we can't.”
When Catalina de Erauso fights duels, steals money, leads soldiers into battle, rescues a woman in distress, evades the marriage plans of hopeful widows and their daughters, and marches across league upon league of uncharted Peruvian terrain, it is tempting to see in her tale an allegory of early modern woman's emergent subjectivity. . . . When Catalina flirts with two young women, "frolicking" and "teasing," it might seem intriguing to read this as lesbianism avant la lettre, an instance of female homosexuality or, at the very least, love play between women. Yet all these readings are allegorical--that is to say, they are readings of her story as a story about something else--as indeed saints' and others' lives have been offered in the literary annals of her time and ours--as exempla, as indications of deeper or higher truths.
In 1996, when this English translation of Erauso's autobiography was published, the identification of a seventeenth-century figure as "transvestite" was controversial and contested. Now, more than twenty years later, the discussion is still complicated, with many scholars of gender and sexuality suggesting Erauso was transgender, still others continuing the debate about trying to understand the identity of a seventeenth-century person using twenty-first century concepts.

What follows here is just a brief summary of Catalina's life. After leaving the convent, Erauso has a series of adventures in a number of Spanish cities, serving a variety of masters in a variety of roles under a number of different names, including Pedro de Orive, Francisco de Loyola, Alonso Diaz Ramirez de Guzman and Antonio de Erauso. At times Erauso either meets or serves some members of her own family--cousins, her aunt, even her father--who never recognize her.

At last Erauso decides to travel to the Americas, where, as a man, he lives a riotous life, the autobiography recounting all kinds of madcap adventures, fights and brawls, and sexual misadventures. At one point, "he" is almost forced to marry a woman, at another, "he" is dismissed when caught in a compromising position with a young woman.

Eventually Catalina joins the Spanish army, using the name Alonso Díaz Ramírez de Guzmán. As a man, Erauso serves in Chile, Peru, and Bolivia, eventually earning the rank of lieutenant, recognized for brutality and efficiency.

After another dizzying array of adventures and misadventures--he is promoted, he is suspended, he is imprisoned, he deserts the army, he commits heinous crimes, including murder, for which he is condemned to death and then reprieved--in 1623 Erauso is forced to reveal "her" identity as a woman. Her revelation is a last desperate act; about to be executed, she "confesses" to the local bishop, Francisco Verdugo Cabrerathat she is not only a woman but that she is a virgin, having been brought up in a convent. 

As she tells the story in her memoir, the "truth" is this: "I am a woman; that I was born in such-and-such a place, daughter of such-and-such man and woman; that I was placed at a certain age in such-and-such a convent with my aunt so-and-so; that I grew up there, took the habit and became a novice; that, about to take the vows, I ran off; that I went to such-and-such a place, stripped, dressed myself as a man, cut off my hair, travelled here and there, went to sea, roamed, hustled, corrupted, maimed, and murdered, until coming to end up here at his Lordship’s feet.”

Sent back to Spain, Catalina gains notoriety and attempts to get a military pension, in recognition for her years of service. The documents in her petition include her relación de méritos y servicios ("account of merits and services") and a number of testimonies of witnesses. These records from her 1625-26 appeal preserve a great deal of the verifiable information about her. It is during this same period that she is said to have written or dictated (accounts vary) her memoir. 

Catalina de Erauso is eventually awarded her military pension. In addition, she is also granted another, more unusual request: she asks to be allowed to continue living as a man, and she receives official permission to do so. In 1630 Erauso returns to the Americas, living the last twenty years of his life in Mexico as Antonio de Erauso. 

Notions about Catalina de Erauso's gender and sexuality are thus confused and confusing. In the memoir, she uses female pronouns to refer to herself when she is living as a woman, male pronouns for her life as a man, a practice I've tried to reproduce here, though I remain unclear about which pronouns to use--if she were transgender, I would use the pronoun s/he (or "they") prefers to use--but I'm not at all sure about what "correct" usage might be in Erauso's case. 

There are also questions about the genre of Catalina's work--is it autobiography? Or confession? Or an adventure story? Is it "true" at all, in any sense of that word?

1829 edition of Catalina de Erauso's
And there are questions about the authenticity of the memoir, which wasn't published until the nineteenth century. Did Catalina de Erauso "write" this story of her life? There is no surviving manuscript, nor is there any copy of a supposed seventeenth-century printed edition. There is a reference to an earlier manuscript in the eighteenth century, a "copy" of which was eventually published in France in 1829. 

I don't know the answer to any of these questions, though I do enjoy the lively scholarly debate about Catalina de Erauso and the memoir attributed to her. And, while I never taught this text, I did share it with a number of students in the years that I taught, for one of whom it proved to be a transformative text.

I could see the young woman in my class was struggling--she was absent far too many days, she wasn't doing the course reading, and she was missing assignments. She also missed the day students signed up for topics for an independent research assignment--when she came by my office, she was uninterested in the few remaining topics on the list. So I handed her a copy of the 1996 English translation of Erauso's memoir--maybe she'd be interested in this, I suggested. 

She took the book. I'd like to say it saved her life--she didn't do all that well in the course, but she did complete it, and she didn't commit suicide, which is what she was threatening to do (and what I feared).

And two years later, happy, writing like mad, and active in the gay and lesbian group on campus, she stopped by my office one day to say thank you. The story of Catalina de Erauso had been an inspiration. 

The 1996 English translation of Catalina de Erauso's memoir is still in print--you can access it by clicking here. And, if you search "lieutenant nun" on the Amazon website, you will see a number of critical works, focusing on gender and sexuality, about Catalina de Erauso, and while they seem to be out of print, used copies are available.

For an introduction to the critical issues, I recommend Isabel Hernández's essay, "From Spain to the Americas, from the Convent to the Front: Catalina de Erauso's Shifting Identities," originally published in L'Homme, available online through Eurozine (click here).

While you can buy a copy of the memoir, you can also access it freely online. In English, the memoir is available through the Early Americas Digital Archive; the translation, by Dan Harvey Pedrick, can be accessed by clicking here. For a Spanish edition, available through the Biblioteca virtual de Miguel Cervantes, click here.   

Friday, March 9, 2018

Mary Anning, Fossil Hunter

Mary Anning (died 9 March 1847)

Born in 1799 in Lyme Regis, a coastal down in Dorset (England), Mary Anning was the daughter of Richard Anning and Mary Moore. (Of the ten children born to the couple, only Mary and her brother, Joseph, survived to adulthood.)

Mary Anning with her dog, Tray
Richard Anning was a carpenter and cabinetmaker by trade, but in order to supplement the family's income, both Richard and his wife searched for fossils on what is now called the "Jurassic Coast"--the southern coastal cliffs and beaches of England noted for the fossil remains found there. These "curiosities" were sold on to those visiting the area.

Not much is known about Anning's childhood, and she seems to have received little formal education beyond learning to read and write.

But she learned a great deal about fossil-hunting from her family's expeditions, and Anning would later teach herself geology, paleontology, anatomy and scientific illustration.

After Richard Anning's death in 1810, the family's need was dire--at the time of his death, Richard left his two young children and his pregnant wife without means of support beyond charity and fossil-hunting, work which both Mary and her brother undertook. 

Together the siblings discovered the first complete Ichthyosaurus in 1811, with Richard finding what he believed was a crocodile skull and then, several months later, the twelve-year-old Mary finding the remainder of the skeleton. She excavated the entire fossil remains, which were then sold. 

The Annings' discovery "was used as the basis for the first ever scientific paper written about the ichthyosaur, published in 1814 by Everard Home." While the British physician received wide recognition for his work, the contribution of Mary and Joseph Anning was not acknowledged. (Not all of their contacts ignored their contributions, however--in 1821, recognizing the family's continued poverty, Lieutenant-Colonel Thomas James Birch, a wealthy collector, auctioned off all the fossil specimens he had purchased from the Annings in order to secure their financial situation.)

By 1816, Joseph Anning began working as an apprentice to an upholsterer, leaving the "family business" of fossil-hunting to Mary. In 1823, she is credited with having discovered the first intact Pleisiosaurus skeleton, and in 1828, she discovered the first British pterosaur specimen, later known as a Pterodactulus. In 1829, she discovered and excavated a Squaloraja, a fossil fish.

Anning's 1824 sketch of a Pleiiosaur

In addition to her discoveries, Anning read (and copied) scientific papers, including their illustrations, carried out dissections, and became an expert anatomist. She was consulted by geologists and paleontologists and made innumerable contributions to the work of men of science--more often than not without acknowledgment or recognition. 

As one of her friends and companions, Anna Pinney, noted, "She says the world has used her ill. . .  . [T]hese men of learning have sucked her brains, and made a great deal of publishing works, of which she furnished the contents, while she derived none of the advantages."

As a woman, Anning could not claim membership in the British Association for the Advancement of Science (founded in 1831) or the Geological Society of London (founded in 1807), but in 1838 members of these scientific associations raised money to provide an annuity for her support.  

Fossil-hunting was both physically taxing and dangerous--Manning was nearly killed by a landslide in 1833 (a disaster that resulted in the death of her "old faithful dog," Tray, who accompanied her on her dangerous excavations). She spent the last years of her life suffering from a variety of illnesses, eventually dying from breast cancer at the age of forty-seven. 

The assessment of her life and work offered by the Lyme Regis Museum, which exhibits some of her fossil finds, provides an excellent insight into her scientific contributions:
Mary Anning’s discoveries were some of the most significant geological finds of all time. They provided evidence that was central to the development of new ideas about the history of the Earth. Her opinions were sought and she was acknowledged as an expert in many areas, including the rather unglamorous coprolites (fossil faeces). She played a key role in informing the work of her learned, male contemporaries, notably William Buckland, Henry de la Beche and William Conybeare. By the time of her death, geology was firmly established as its own scientific discipline.
Mary’s contribution had a major impact at a time when there was little to challenge the biblical interpretation of the story of creation and of the flood. The spectacular marine reptiles that Mary unearthed shook the scientific community into looking at different explanations for changes in the natural world.
And while I usually bitch to anyone who will listen about the deficiencies of the venerable Encyclopedia Britannica when it comes to their treatment of notable women, the EB does contain an entry for Mary Anning. The essay, by John P. Rafferty, concludes, 
After [Mary Anning] died of breast cancer in 1847, the president of the Geological Society eulogized her in his annual address, even though the first women would not be admitted to the organization until 1904. In 2010 she was recognized by the Royal Society as one of the 10 most influential women scientists in British history.
Today there is an excellent account of Mary Anning's life and work at the Natural History Museum in London--which is where I first encountered her!

There are several biographies about Mary Anning, but they all seem to be children's books . . . Sigh.

Anning display at the Natural History Museum, London

Update, 11 April 2021: You may want to listen to this excellent BBC History Extra podcast, "Ammonite and the Real Fossil Hunter, Mary Anning (click here), featuring an interview with archaeologist and writer Rebecca Wrap Sykes. In this broadcast, Ammonite refers to a new film with Kate Winlett in the role of Anning--a romanticized account of the fossil hunters life, but it's a feature film, not a documentary.

In the podcast, Sykes refers to a new biography of Anning, Tom Sharpe's The Fossil Woman: A Life of Mary Anning, which SEEMS to be a biography written for adults. I haven't been able to find it on Amazon, but it is available from the publisher, Dovecote Press, here.

Sykes herself is one of the creators of TrowelBlazers, "a celebration of women archaeologists, palaeontologists and geologists who have been doing awesome work for far longer, and in far greater numbers, than most people realise" (click here).

Update, 26 January 2022: Looking back through this essay today, I decided to check--Tom Sharpe's biography of Mary Anning is now listed on Amazon. The top review (at this moment) identifies it as "a real biography, not a children's book."