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  • Cited by 51
Cambridge University Press
Online publication date:
February 2020
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Book description

Long before people identified as transgender or lesbian, there were female husbands and the women who loved them. Female husbands - people assigned female who transed gender, lived as men, and married women - were true queer pioneers. Moving deftly from the colonial era to just before the First World War, Jen Manion uncovers the riveting and very personal stories of ordinary people who lived as men despite tremendous risk, danger, violence, and threat of punishment. Female Husbands weaves the story of their lives in relation to broader social, economic, and political developments in the United States and the United Kingdom while also exploring how attitudes towards female husbands shifted in relation to transformations in gender politics and women's rights, ultimately leading to the demise of the category of 'female husband' in the early twentieth century. Groundbreaking and influential, Female Husbands offers a dynamic, varied, and complex history of the LGBTQ past.


Finalist, 2021 Lawrence W. Levine Award, Organization of American Historians

Winner, 2021 Best Second Monograph in Victorian Studies, British Association for Victorian Studies Prize


'An altogether fresh and innovative take on centuries-old identities and relationships, Female Husbands shows its readers how the most forward-thinking and progressive conceptions of gender and sexuality can find their origins in the past. … Manion's female husbands are brought to life by energetic prose and an insistence on their continued cultural and political impact.'

Hannah Roche Source: Times Literary Supplement

‘Female Husbands is a powerful work not only because Manion insists on taking the past on its own terms, but also because she refuses to tell her reader if she is reporting on a history that can be made legible to our 21st-century ideas about sexuality, sex, or gender identity.'

Source: Los Angeles Review of Books

‘… a detailed, synoptic history of a fascinating dimension of 18th- and 19th-century cultural history in Britain and the US.'

Grace Lavery Source: The Guardian

‘The challenges of interpreting the fragments of evidence about these people's lives, written by those who had the social and economic order of marriage to defend, becomes in Jen Manion's hands a masterclass in historical rigor, empathy, and craft.'

Catherine Baker Source: History Today

‘Manion's triumph is to treat with an openhanded and flexible approach a series of lives that resisted categories and flourished through ambiguity.'

Karen Harvey Source: BBC History Magazine

‘An absolutely stunning deep-dive into historical transgressions of gender.'

Source: Manhattan Book Review

‘… a treasure trove of historical insights… The research makes a refreshing intervention in the fraught debates about the intersections between queer, lesbian, feminist, and trans histories.'

Heike Bauer Source: Times Higher Education

'In this painstakingly researched study, Jen Manion opens a window into a previously unseen dimension of the British and American past. Female Husbands explores the lives of people who transed gender, lived as men, and married women between the colonial period and World War I, situating them in the context of broader political and social developments including changing understandings of gender and women's rights. The book is a stunning and path breaking achievement.'

Drew Faust - President Emeritus and the Arthur Kingsley Porter University Professor, Harvard University, Massachusetts

'Female Husbands combines intellectual rigor and impeccable historical research with sensitivity and even imagination to illuminate this fascinatingly varied cohort of gender rebels.'

Emma Donoghue - author of Room and Akin

'… fascinating … extremely thought-provoking.'

Christina Patterson - The Sunday Times

'Jen Manion offers a spectacular historical survey of people assigned female at birth who went on to live as men and marry women. In doing so, they demonstrate that contemporary attention to trans issues is just the tip of a vast, submerged legacy of gender variance, traversing both sides of the English-speaking transatlantic world, that stretches back hundreds of years.'

Susan Stryker - author of Transgender History and The Transgender Studies Reader

'Jen Manion mines Anglo-American newspapers, books, and pamphlets and shows us how ‘female husbands' confounded conceptions of sex, gender, and sexuality. An engaging account of the unruly history of ‘transing', and the surveillance of it, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.'

Joanne Meyerowitz - author of How Sex Changed: A History of Transsexuality in the United States

‘Grounded in extensive archival research, this study by Manion (Amherst College) explores how the term ‘female husband’ - used to describe a person categorized as ‘female’ at birth but who occupied a social position as a (heterosexual) ‘man’ - went in and out of public use in the UK (1740–1840) and the US (1830–1910) … A clear, compelling, and compassionate text … Highly recommended.’

T. E. Adams Source: Choice

‘Female Husbands cultivates and enriches the terrain of trans history. The successes of Manion’s book hinge on its ability to chart a collective premodern and modern history of trans livelihood and archival presence … Manion models trans care work … as it further legitimates and makes known trans pasts, presents, and futures.’

Jeremy Chow Source: ABO: Interactive Journal for Women in the Arts, 1640–1830

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  • Introduction: Extraordinary Lives
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