Back in the old days, women were not able to freely do things they wished to like women today. Cross-dressers were the women who disguised themselves as men, and many of them did admirable things. Most of them did so to fight in wars alongside men, and there were many other reasons behind those. You will find 10 amazing women who disguised as men in the list below. Let us know who you think is the most impressive among the 10.
Born into a wealthy Christian family, Marina was a young girl with a unique mindset. To avoid arranged marriage by her father, she chose to live as a monk with her father. Marina disguised herself as a boy so that she could accompany her father to a monastery. In the 8th century, women were not allowed inside the monastery so this was the only way. After some time of watching her father, Marina continued the disguise and became a monk under the name Marinus. After several years at the monastery, Marina was traveling with her fellow monks when an innkeeper’s daughter claimed Marina had impregnated her.
Instead of revealing the truth, Marina left the monastery and remained outside the gates as a beggar for several years. Marina also raised the child after the innkeeper’s daughter gave birth and took him to her. She would feed the child with sheep’s milk from local shepherds and care for him for 10 years. Eventually, the monks convinced the abbot to allow Marina to return although she received heavy penalties. She had to perform hard labor in carrying water, cleaning, and cooking on top of regular monastic duties and child caring. Just like most of the cross-dressers in history, her true identity remained a secret until her death.
Year: 420 – 589 CE
When it comes to cross-dressers, many people think of the Chinese warrior Hua Mulan. A girl named Mulan joined the army in place of her elderly father when China was invaded. Her father was too frail and her brother was too young to fight in the battle, so she put herself in instead. Hua Mulan excelled in archery, kung fu, and sword fighting during her time in the army for over 10 years. The emperor honored her with a position of high office but she declined the offer and returned to her hometown. Her fellow soldiers did not know that she was a woman until the moment she put on traditional female clothing. Although some said that Mulan is more of a fiction than real, she has been an inspiration to women. Her story also inspired the famous Disney movie “Mulan”, “Mulan II”, and the live-action film Mulan in 2020.
Year: 1690 – 1721
Mary Read was one of the only two women who have ever been convicted of piracy. She was one of the impressive cross-dressers who spent much of her early life disguising herself as a man. Mary also joined the British military under the name Mark Read. In the 18th century, it was the golden age of piracy when Mary was on duty out in the sea. She was on a naval ship in the West Indies when the pirates captured everyone on board. The pirates forced her to join them, and Mary eventually realized that she enjoyed her life as a pirate. After she let out her secret, she would pair up with another female pirate whose name was Annie Bonny. The end had come when she was captured during her pregnancy, and she died of fever in prison.
Year: 1723 – 1792
Since she was a child, Hannah Snell often pretended to be a soldier. This is without a doubt why she spent her life in disguise as a male British soldier. Hannah borrowed a man’s suit from her brother-in-law and assumed his name, James Gray, to get to the battlefield. During the war, Hannah was wounded 12 times including one to the groin. However, she was able to recover from her injuries by tending to them herself so that she could keep her secrets. Eventually, Hannah revealed her true identity to her shipmates in 1750. After her hardship, she was honorably discharged and granted a pension which is rare back then. In her retirement, Hannah opened a pub called The Female Warrior before she passed in 1791 from mental and physical health deteriorated.
Year: 1760 – 1827
Deborah Sampson was so determined to fight in the Revolutionary War that she tried to enlist in the fledgling army twice. The first attempt was not successful, so she used the identity Robert Shirtliffe and got into the army. Deborah successfully fought in the war for almost 2 years, but her career did not end there. She also joined the Fourth Massachusetts Regiment, and she was assigned to Captain George Webb’s forces. Her task was dangerous as she had to scout neutral territory and access the British’s buildup of men and materials. In her task, she received a gash on her forehead from a sword and she was shot in her left thigh.
Despite all of those, Deborah managed to keep her true identity to herself. With a height of 5.7 feet tall, it was easy to be one of the most fool-proof cross-dressers. Unfortunately, she fell ill during an epidemic and she was taken to the hospital where her gender was discovered. Deborah received an honorable discharge in 1783, and she became a farmer after that. Then in 1802, she toured throughout the country to talk about her experiences as the first American woman in the army. Deborah would dress in full military regalia during lectures, and that inspired so many people to her passion.
6Margaret Ann Bulkley
Year: 1789 – 1865
Dr. James Barry finished school at 22 years of age and rose to the rank of a British Army surgeon. In Africa, Barry performed one of the first successful C-sections where the mother and child survived. Then in 1857, Barry became Inspector General of Hospitals and made improvements for the poor. After Doctor Barry’s death, the Army tried to suppress Barry’s records and all access to them was shut down for 100 years. A century later, it was revealed that Dr. James Barry was a woman, Margaret Ann Bulkley, disguised as a man.
Back in the 19th century, it was illegal for women to study medicine in England. Margaret Ann Bulkley refused to follow that rule and became the first British woman to practice medicine, in disguise. Being born to a poor family in Ireland, she wanted to pursue things that did not fit women. Those are joining the army and working in the education field, but her passion for health care was the strongest. Margaret had an uncle named James Barry who was a painter and a professor to General Francisco De Miranda. After her uncle’s death, she assumed his identity and attended medical school in Edinburgh.
Her mother helped her with the disguise by encouraging her to wear an overcoat regardless of the weather. She also told Margaret to deepen her voice to sound like a man, and things went smoothly. After graduating as a medical doctor in 1812, Margaret joined the army as James Barry. The British Empire sent her to most of their colonies from South Africa to India where she treated patients. Throughout her career, Margaret received the highest medal in the British army that a doctor could obtain. She lived in male clothes for almost 5 decades before her secret was revealed when she passed away from dysentery.
Year: 1812 – 1879
Charley Parkhurst aka One-Eyed Charley aka Six Horse Charley was one of the most excellent stagecoach drivers of the Old West. She grew up in an orphanage where she ran away from. Charley dressed as a boy so that she could work in stables where she learned how to drive a coach. She was short for a man, but she was strong enough to outwork men half her age as a lumberjack. Charley was famous for being a skilled and talented driver before she had to move to keep her secret. So she moved to California in 1851 where she rose to fame for stagecoach driving. Her secret came out after she died of tongue cancer in 1879, but her amazing reputation lives on.
8The Bronte Sisters
Year: 1816 – 1855
Poets and novelists were among the professions that were forbidden for women back in the old days. Charlotte, Emily, and Anne Bronte published a collection of poetry in 1846 under male pseudonyms Currer, Ellis, and Acton Bell. The three sisters released some of the masterpieces and remarkable classic forms of literature under their pen names. In fact, most of their work attracted the attention of many readers due to their originality and passion. All three of them with their brother developed their imaginations through oral storytelling and play sets. After the death of their mother, two older sisters began their passion for writing. Apart from being writers, all three sisters were also employed as governesses and teachers at various times. All 3 sisters and their brother died of tuberculosis, but their success continues.
Year: 1914 – 1989
While women disguised themselves as men to fight in wars, Dorothy Lucille did so in order to pursue her passion for music. She was denied a spot in her high school band because she was a girl. Dorothy was already a professional musician, so all she had to do was to dress as a man. For decades, she assumed a male gender identity under the name Billy Tipton. Billy was an American jazz musician, band leader, and talent broker for decades. This cross-dressing musician played piano and saxophone, and she was quite famous at the time. Throughout her career, Dorothy played in various dance bands and even recorded 2 trio albums for a small record label.
She started her music career in the mid-1930s and stopped performing in the late 1970s due to arthritis. Dorothy was never legally married, but she had been in relationships with several women along with the adoption of 3 sons. She kept her secret by telling them that she had been in a serious car accident that resulted in damaged genitals and broken ribs. The broken ribs part was to hide the fact that she had to bind her chest at all times. Billy Tipton was a very private person, and he always locked the bathroom when he washed and dressed. Her female identity was not publicly revealed until after her death which was a surprise to both her family and friends.
Year: 1935 – 2009
In 1959, Rena Kanokogi disguised herself as a man to enter a YMCA judo tournament in New York. This cross-dresser won the event, but she was forced to return her medal when the officials discovered her gender. Despite this, Rena did not give up on her judo dreams. She went to Japan to continue her training and became the first woman to train with men at the Kodokan. Rena Kanokogi was also the world’s first female judo world championship held in the Felt Forum at Madison Square Garden. Rena pioneered women’s judo competition at the Olympic Games, and she was often referred to as The Mother of Women’s Judo. Three months before her death, the New York State YMCA awarded a gold medal to commend her contributions to judo.
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