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8 Historical Crossdressers: Women in a Man's World

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You may be familiar with the stories of Joan of Arc and Hua Mulan, but they are far from the only women who crossdressed in order to fill roles historically reserved for men.

1. Ann Bonny and 2. Mary Read

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Ann Bonny and Mary Read were 18th century pirates of the Caribbean. Irish-born Ann married a brigand named James Bonny as a teenager and moved from her home in South Carolina to the Caribbean, where she eloped with another pirate, Calico Jack Rackham. She dressed as a man to join his crew. Read was born in London and was passed off as a boy by her mother in order to collect child support from her dead half-brother's grandparents. After a stint with the British military, she married a sailor and began living as a woman. Her husband died young, and the widow Read once again disguised herself as a man and joined the military. Upon leaving the service, she drifted into a pirate's life. She met Ann Bonny while serving on Rackham's ship, and they became close friends, guarding each other's true identity. The entire pirate crew was captured in 1720, but Bonny and Read both won a stay of execution due to pregnancy. Read died in prison, possibly from childbirth complications. Bonny disappeared from court records. It is believed that her parents may have bought her freedom, but there are no official documents on her fate.

3. Hannah Snell

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Englishwoman Hannah Snell served in the Royal Marines for four years in the 18th century. She assumed the identity of her brother-in-law James Gray after her child died and her husband deserted her. Her unit was sent to capture a French colony in India in 1748, and she was wounded several times without her sex ever being discovered. She revealed her secret to her shipmates in 1750 and was granted an honorable discharge and eventually a pension! Snell made the most of her experience. She sold her story to a publisher, appeared on stage in uniform to tell her story, and opened a pub called The Female Warrior.

More recent women posing as men, after the jump.

4. Frances Clayton

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There are quite a few stories of women serving in the Civil War disguised as men. Estimates range from 150 to 400 such soldiers! Many distinguished themselves, and were even honored for their service after the war. One such hero was Frances L. Clayton, who wore men's clothing to enlist in the Union Army with her husband. She was wounded three times in battle, and was even taken prisoner by the Confederacy. After her husband was killed, she confided her sex to her commanding officer and was granted an honorable discharge.

5. Charley Parkhurst

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Charley Parkhurst was known as one of the greatest stagecoach drivers of the Old West. Charley was short but strong, and even after retiring from driving, could outwork men half her age as a lumberjack. But after Charley died, those who had known "him" for years were shocked to discover Charley was a woman! Charlotte Darkey Parkhurst was born in New Hampshire in 1812. Dressed as a boy, Charley worked in stables and learned the craft of a driver. She built a reputation as a skilled driver, then fled to Georgia, possibly over the threat of exposure. She moved west to California in 1851, where she again built a reputation as a skilled and talented driver. At least once her secret was discovered, but those who knew kept it confidential to preserve her dignity. After her death in 1879, doctors not only discovered Charley's sex, but announced that she had at sometime in her life given birth! (image credit: Val Hoover)

6. Dorothy Lawrence

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Dorothy Lawrence wanted to be a front line journalist during the first World War. Instead of enlisting under an assumed identity, she disguised herself as a British soldier and traveled to the front lines. She became a sapper with a mine-laying company! After ten days of laying mines, she became so nervous about her deception that she confessed to her commanding officer and was promptly arrested as a spy. Lawrence was forced to sign an affidavit agreeing not to write of her experiences, which defeated the entire purpose of her war effort. She actually did write of her experiences, but her story was not published in full until many years later. In 1925, Lawrence was committed to an insane asylum, where she lived until her death in 1964.

7. Billy Tipton

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Billy Tipton was a jazz musician who played piano and saxophone. Born in 1914 as Dorothy Lucille Tipton, she was denied a spot in her high school band because she was a girl. Billy was already a professional musician when she began dressing as a man to better blend in with the other musicians, and by 1940 presented herself as a man both publicly and privately. While playing with various bands, she had long-term relationships with several women who never knew her true sex. Although Billy never legally married, she adopted three sons with stripper Kitty Oakes. Neither Oakes nor their sons knew Tipton's sex until her death in 1989, at age 74.

8. Norah Vincent

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Journalist Norah Vincent went undercover for 18 months as Ned Vincent to discover what the world looked like through a man's eyes. The result was the book Self-Made Man, and some insights she didn't expect. You can read an excerpt from the book here.

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James Cameron is Making a Documentary to Reassess the Accuracy of Titanic
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20th Century Fox

While making the 1997 blockbuster Titanic, James Cameron was a stickler for the details. The writer-director wanted his homage to the tragic ocean liner to be as historically accurate as possible, so he organized dives to the site, solicited experts to analyze his script, and modeled the set off photographs and plans from the Titanic's builders. He even recreated the ocean liner’s original furnishings, right down to the light fixtures. Now, 20 years after the film’s release, E! News reports that Cameron will scrutinize the film’s authenticity in an upcoming National Geographic documentary.

Titanic: 20th Anniversary is slated to air in December 2017. It will feature Cameron and a team of experts who, together, will evaluate the film's accuracy using new historical and scientific insights about the ship's fateful sinking on April 15, 1912.

"When I wrote the film, and when I set out to direct it, I wanted every detail to be as accurate as I could make it, and every harrowing moment of the ship's final hours accounted for," Cameron said in a statement. "I was creating a living history; I had to get it right out of respect for the many who died and for their legacy. But did I really get it right? Now, with National Geographic and with the latest research, science, and technology, I'm going to reassess."

It's not the first time Cameron has revisited his Oscar-winning epic; in 2012, the director made some tweaks to the film for its 3-D re-release after receiving some criticism from renowned astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson.

“Neil deGrasse Tyson sent me quite a snarky email saying that, at that time of year, in that position in the Atlantic in 1912, when Rose is lying on the piece of driftwood and staring up at the stars, that is not the star field she would have seen," Cameron explained. “And with my reputation as a perfectionist, I should have known that and I should have put the right star field in." So he changed it.

In the case of Titanic: 20th Anniversary, Cameron and his team will give viewers an updated interpretation of the Titanic’s sinking, and reexamine the wreck using new underwater footage, computer-generated simulation, and research. They’ll also scrutinize some of the film’s most famous scenes, and provide biographical context about the filming process.

We’re sure fans, historians, and, of course, Kate and Leo, will approve.

[h/t Mashable]

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6 Eponyms Named After the Wrong Person
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Salmonella species growing on agar.

Having something named after you is the ultimate accomplishment for any inventor, mathematician, scientist, or researcher. Unfortunately, the credit for an invention or discovery does not always go to the correct person—senior colleagues sometimes snatch the glory, fakers pull the wool over people's eyes, or the fickle general public just latches onto the wrong name.

1. SALMONELLA (OR SMITHELLA?)

In 1885, while investigating common livestock diseases at the Bureau of Animal Industry in Washington, D.C., pathologist Theobald Smith first isolated the salmonella bacteria in pigs suffering from hog cholera. Smith’s research finally identified the bacteria responsible for one of the most common causes of food poisoning in humans. Unfortunately, Smith’s limelight-grabbing supervisor, Daniel E. Salmon, insisted on taking sole credit for the discovery. As a result, the bacteria was named after him. Don’t feel too sorry for Theobald Smith, though: He soon emerged from Salmon’s shadow, going on to make the important discovery that ticks could be a vector in the spread of disease, among other achievements.

2. AMERICA (OR COLUMBIANA?)

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Florentine explorer Amerigo Vespucci (1451–1512) claimed to have made numerous voyages to the New World, the first in 1497, before Columbus. Textual evidence suggests Vespucci did take part in a number of expeditions across the Atlantic, but generally does not support the idea that he set eyes on the New World before Columbus. Nevertheless, Vespucci’s accounts of his voyages—which today read as far-fetched—were hugely popular and translated into many languages. As a result, when German cartographer Martin Waldseemüller was drawing his map of the Novus Mundi (or New World) in 1507 he marked it with the name "America" in Vespucci’s honor. He later regretted the choice, omitting the name from future maps, but it was too late, and the name stuck.

3. BLOOMERS (OR MILLERS?)

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Dress reform became a big issue in mid-19th century America, when women were restricted by long, heavy skirts that dragged in the mud and made any sort of physical activity difficult. Women’s rights activist Elizabeth Smith Miller was inspired by traditional Turkish dress to begin wearing loose trousers gathered at the ankle underneath a shorter skirt. Miller’s new outfit immediately caused a splash, with some decrying it as scandalous and others inspired to adopt the garb.

Amelia Jenks Bloomer was editor of the women’s temperance journal The Lily, and she took to copying Miller’s style of dress. She was so impressed with the new freedom it gave her that she began promoting the “reform dress” in her magazine, printing patterns so others might make their own. Bloomer sported the dress when she spoke at events and soon the press began to associate the outfit with her, dubbing it “Bloomer’s costume.” The name stuck.

4. GUILLOTINE (OR LOUISETTE?)

Execution machines had been known prior to the French Revolution, but they were refined after Paris physician and politician Dr. Joseph-Ignace Guillotin suggested they might be a more humane form of execution than the usual methods (hanging, burning alive, etc.). The first guillotine was actually designed by Dr. Antoine Louis, Secretary of the Academy of Surgery, and was known as a louisette. The quick and efficient machine was quickly adopted as the main method of execution in revolutionary France, and as the bodies piled up the public began to refer to it as la guillotine, for the man who first suggested its use. Guillotin was very distressed at the association, and when he died in 1814 his family asked the French government to change the name of the hated machine. The government refused and so the family changed their name instead to escape the dreadful association.

5. BECHDEL TEST (OR WALLACE TEST?)

Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel
Steve Jennings/Getty Images

The Bechdel Test is a tool to highlight gender inequality in film, television, and fiction. The idea is that in order to pass the test, the movie, show, or book in question must include at least one scene in which two women have a conversation that isn’t about a man. The test was popularized by the cartoonist Alison Bechdel in 1985 in her comic strip “Dykes to Watch Out For,” and has since become known by her name. However, Bechdel asserts that the idea originated with her friend Lisa Wallace (and was also inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf), and she would prefer for it to be known as the Bechdel-Wallace test.

6. STIGLER’S LAW OF EPONYMY (OR MERTON’S LAW?)

Influential sociologist Robert K. Merton suggested the idea of the “Matthew Effect” in a 1968 paper noting that senior colleagues who are already famous tend to get the credit for their junior colleagues’ discoveries. (Merton named his phenomenon [PDF] after the parable of talents in the Gospel of Matthew, in which wise servants invest money their master has given them.)

Merton was a well-respected academic, and when he was due to retire in 1979, a book of essays celebrating his work was proposed. One person who contributed an essay was University of Chicago professor of statistics Stephen Stigler, who had corresponded with Merton about his ideas. Stigler decided to pen an essay that celebrated and proved Merton’s theory. As a result, he took Merton’s idea and created Stigler’s Law of Eponymy, which states that “No scientific discovery is named after its original discoverer”—the joke being that Stigler himself was taking Merton’s own theory and naming it after himself. To further prove the rule, the “new” law has been adopted by the academic community, and a number of papers and articles have since been written on "Stigler’s Law."

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