Off-Campus Hollins Users:
To access this document, please click here to log in to our proxy server with your campus network user name/password (the same one you use to log into the campus network and your e-mail).

Year of Graduation


Document Type





On January 17, 1829, The London Times published an article entitled “The Female Husband.” There had been an accident on the London docks, and a piece of timber fell, instantly killing a laborer by the name of James Allen. Mrs. Mary Allen was quickly notified that her husband had died, but after rushing to St Thomas’s Hospital she discovered, alongside the hospital staff, that her husband of twenty-one years had a female body.[1]Allen had lived the majority of their life as a man. This role included wearing men’s work clothes, legally marrying a woman, and presumably having sex with her. The English public was intrigued by the story of James Allen, and specifically by the way their gender nonconformity interacted with their body.

In order to understand the embodiment of gender variance, this thesis will examine the lives and perceptions of several female husbands through three lenses, which become progressively more intimate with each chapter. The first chapter looks at the clothing adopted by female husbands. At the turn of the nineteenth century, the vast majority of English men and women believed clothing had the potential to physically alter the body. Georgian society perceived masculine attire as an act of deceit, or an attempt to usurp male privileges in a patriarchal society. The second chapter examines how the institution of marriage served to legitimize the manhood of female husbands while exposing anxieties around gender difference. Furthermore, it looks at how female husbands adopted and understood these marriages, both legally and interpersonally. The final chapter analyzes desire and the act of sex between two female people. Same sex desire was the most dangerous aspect of gender variance to eighteenth and nineteenth century perceptions of sexual roles and bodies. Perceptions of clothing, marriage, and sex all impacted the lives of gender nonconforming individuals simultaneously and in interconnected ways. Furthermore, the perceptions of gender nonconforming individuals are reflective of a Georgian fear around all female people being able to socially transform into men. While the idea of this physically being possible had died with the transition away from Galenic ideas, fear around social mobility of the sexes had not subsided. In separating out the three themes of clothing, marriage, and sex to discuss female husbands it becomes easier to unpack the connection between gender nonconformity and Georgian anxieties around the female body.

[1] Anonymous, "The Female Husband." Times, January 17, 1829, 3. The Times Digital Archive.