The best books about 18th & 19th century crossdressers

Linda Collison Author Of Star-Crossed
By Linda Collison

Who am I?

The custom of Masquerade, of dressing as Other, has long fascinated me. In writing Star-Crossed, I set out to investigate how and why one girl might pass as a boy in an era when gender roles were sharply differentiated. I once crossed an ocean working aboard a wooden, three-masted ship – a 20th-century replica of the Bark Endeavour, circumnavigating in 1999. Sleeping in hammocks and working aloft in the rigging, I discovered this life required teamwork, stamina – and a sturdy, practical costume. Trousers, not petticoats! I have worked as a registered nurse and I earned a degree in History; these experiences combine in Star-Crossed. 


I wrote...

Star-Crossed

By Linda Collison,

Book cover of Star-Crossed

What is my book about?

Patricia Kelley has been raised a proper British lady--but she's become a stowaway. Her father is dead, and her future in peril. To claim the estate that is rightfully hers, she must travel across the seas to Barbados, hidden in the belly of a merchant ship.

The plan works—for a time. Patricia's secret is revealed, and she is torn between two worlds. During the day, she wears petticoats, inhabits the dignified realm of ship's officers, and trains as a surgeon's mate; at night she dons pants and climbs the rigging. And it is there, alongside boson's mate Brian Dalton, that she feels stunningly alive. In this mesmerizing novel of daring, adventure, tragedy, and romance, Patricia must cross the threshold between night and day, lady and surgeon, and even woman and man.

The books I picked & why

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The Lady Tars: The Autobiographies of Hannah Snell, Mary Lacy and Mary Anne Talbot

By Hannah Snell, Mary Lacy, Mary Anne Talbot

Book cover of The Lady Tars: The Autobiographies of Hannah Snell, Mary Lacy and Mary Anne Talbot

Why this book?

Perhaps the most famous of the 18th-century crossdressers is Hannah Snell. Hannah was a British woman who passed as "James Gray" and became a marine in the Royal Navy, following the death of her infant daughter. During her military career of more than four years she was wounded in battle and later was officially recognized and pensioned for her service. Hannah's is only one of at least twenty authentic accounts of females serving aboard Royal Navy ships, according to editor Tom Grundner, who writes the preface to The Lady Tars; the Autobiographies of Hannah Snell, Mary Lacy and Mary Anne Talbot. Three entertaining, informative accounts in one book.


The Perfect Gentleman: The Remarkable Life of Dr. James Barry

By June Rose,

Book cover of The Perfect Gentleman: The Remarkable Life of Dr. James Barry

Why this book?

The notable Victorian physician, Dr. James Barry, was born female. Aided by her family, she passed as a young man in order to enter the University of Edinburgh to study medicine. Barry's true parentage remains unverifiable, but a good deal is known about the doctor's long career as a British Army Surgeon. Dr. James Barry is remembered for improving conditions for wounded soldiers, reforms in hygiene (revolutionary, at that time), and for performing one of the early successful caesarian surgical deliveries, in which both mother and infant survived. There have been several biographies written about Barry but June Rose's The Perfect Gentleman cuts to the known basics of Barry's life in a straightforward, interesting story.


Masquerade: The Life and Times of Deborah Sampson, Continental Soldier

By Alfred F. Young,

Book cover of Masquerade: The Life and Times of Deborah Sampson, Continental Soldier

Why this book?

It took Americans a very long time to honor the ordinary foot soldiers and seamen of the Revolution. It took even longer to recover the women of the Revolution, historian Alfred F. Young tells us. The author parses through various historical records to present a realistic picture of the female soldier Deborah Sampson. Deborah was not the only woman to volunteer as a soldier – dressed as a man. Her record was exemplary. Sampson became known only after the war was over, and then only to a few people. This biography is among the most thorough of crossdressing fighting women, and it gives a good picture of colonial life at the time of the American Revolution. 


Female Tars: Women Aboard Ship in the Age of Sail

By Suzanne J Stark,

Book cover of Female Tars: Women Aboard Ship in the Age of Sail

Why this book?

This was the first nonfiction book I read that fired up my interest and started my research for my own historical novel. Stark gives a picture of the females to be found aboard ships in the British Royal Navy, most of whom were not posing as men but were wives of warrant officers. One chapter is devoted to women in disguise in naval crews. The last chapter is devoted to the crossdresser Mary Lacy, who passed as William Chandler, and worked as a shipwright. With illustrations and endnotes, Female Tars sheds light on the women who are seldom mentioned in official naval records, but were there, a part of history. 


Monsieur D'Eon is a Woman: A Tale of Political Intrigue and Sexual Masquerade

By Gary Kates,

Book cover of Monsieur D'Eon is a Woman: A Tale of Political Intrigue and Sexual Masquerade

Why this book?

Who was s/he – a man, a woman masquerading as a man, or a gender fluid person?

The Chevalier d'Eon was a French courtier and diplomat, decorated military officer, writer – and a cross-dressing spy for Louis XV in a clandestine foreign policy organization known as the Secret du Roi. A well-researched account, Kates' political "thriller" is quite unlike any other crossdresser's biography I've read; it kindles a conception of 18th-century gender fluidity that reflects perception, influence, and political power in a European age when clothes indeed, made the man.


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in the British Royal Navy, cross-dressing, and France?

5,215 authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the British Royal Navy, cross-dressing, and France.

The British Royal Navy Explore 25 books about the British Royal Navy
Cross-Dressing Explore 6 books about cross-dressing
France Explore 537 books about France

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like Secret Flotillas: Vol. I: Clandestine Sea Operations to Brittany, 1940-1944, The Battle of Britain: Five Months That Changed History; May-October 1940, and Seafaring Women: Adventures of Pirate Queens, Female Stowaways, and Sailors' Wives if you like this list.