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Fincher's Trades' Review: "A Curious Married Couple," 1863

"Thirty-four years of pretended matrimony"

Introduction by Jonathan Ned Katz. Adapted from Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. (New York: T.Y. Crowell, 1976).

In 1863, Fincher's Trades' Review, subtitled "An Advocate of the Rights of the Producing Classes" and published in Philadelphia, carries the first of several reports of women dressing and passing as men, one of whom is clearly indicated to have had a close, central relationship with another woman.

Fincher's appealed especially to those white, Protestant, semiskilled workers of British origin then emigrating to America and becoming active in this country's growing trade-union movement. The English settings of two of these stories were, no doubt, of special interest to Fincher's readers. Reports of these English women provide indications of American attitudes of the 1860s toward women's intimacies with women and female cross-dressing. This report also provides an example of the international circulation of stories about such women.

The seeming innocence of these reports, their authors' apparent failure to recognize, even unconsciously, any sexual "irregularities" in these stories of, for instance, two women living together for thirty-four years as “man and wife,” suggests a consciousness very different from the sexualized awareness so prevalent in 20th-century and 21st-century America. Lack of sexual innuendo in these old reports does not, of course, rule out the existence of overt sexual relations between the women described.

In the next few months, Fincher's carried four features about American females who, dressed as men, had served as soldiers in the Civil War; the stories, however, mention nothing suggesting particularly close relations with other women.

Mary East/James How and Her/His Wife

On July 25, 1863, Fincher's ran a feature story about Englishwoman Mary East and her "wife" of 34 years, a classic couple in the literature of female cross-dressing.

Space added to the document below to facilitate reading on the Web.

 

A Curious Married Couple

In 1731, a girl named Mary East was engaged to be married to a young man for whom she entertained the strongest affection; but upon his taking to evil courses, or, to tell the whole truth, being hanged for highway robbery, she determined to run no risk of any such disappointment from the opposite sex in future.
 
A female friend of hers having suffered in some similar manner, and being of the like mind with herself, they agreed to pass for the rest of their days as man and wife, in some place where they were not known.
 
The question of which should be the husband was decided by lot in favor of Mary East, who accordingly assumed the masculine habit, and under the name of James How, took a small public house at Epping for himself and consort. Here, and subsequently at other inns, they lived together in good repute with their neighbors for eighteen years--during which neither experienced the least pang of marital jealousy--and realized a considerable sum of money.
 
The supposed James How served all the parish offices without discovery, and was several times a foreman of juries: While occupying the White Horse at Poplar, however, his secret was discovered by a woman who had known him in his youth; and from that time the happy couple became the victims of her extortion. First five, then ten, then one hundred pounds were demanded as the price of her silence. and even these bribes were found to be insufficient.
 
At last, however, the persecutor pushed matters too far, and killed the goose that laid such golden eggs. James brought the whole matter before a magistrate, and attired, awkwardly enough, in the proper garments of her sex, herself witnessed against the offender, who was imprisoned for a considerable term.
 
Exposure, however, of course followed upon the trial, and the White Horse had to be disposed of, and the landlord and landlady to retire from public life into retirement. After thirty-four years of pretended matrimony, Mrs. How died; the disconsolate widower survived long afterwards, but never again took to himself another spouse.
 
Neither husband nor wife had ever been seen to dress a joint of meat; nor did they give entertainment to their friends like other couples; neither, although in excellent circumstances, (having acquired between three and four thousand pounds), did they keep man-servant or maid-servant, but Mary East served the customers and went on errands, while her wife attended solely to the affairs of the house.
 

Bibliography

Abelove, Henry, Michèle Aina Barale, David M. Halperin, eds. The Lesbian and gay studies reader - 1993 - 666 pages - books.google.comSnippet view One notable exception, however, was the early eighteenth-century case of the respectable inn-keeper, "James How." Mary East and her friend had opened a public house in the 1730s in a village north of London and by dint of hard work and ...

Calhoun, Cheshire. Feminism, the Family, and the Politics of the Closet: Lesbian and ... - Page 66 books.google.com. Cheshire Calhoun - 2000 - 180 pages - Preview lesbian history. We know nothing of Bonheur's sexuality, only that she enjoyed her gender ambiguity and her passionate ... In the eighteenth century, there are Mary East who passed as James How and had a wife for thirty-five years, ..

Cruickshank, Dan. London's Sinful Secret: The Bawdy History and Very Public Passions ... - Page 551. books.google.com Dan Cruickshank - 2010 - 672 pages - Google eBook - Preview ... relationship with the mysterious 'Mrs Brown' was of the 'classic “butch/femme” type' and actively lesbian. ... or playful cross-dressers like Charlotte but female husbands with, unlike Mary East/James How, a sinister aspect.

Gonda, Carolin, and John C. Beynon. Lesbian dames: Sapphism in the long eighteenth century - Page 57 books.google.com. Caroline Gonda, John C. Beynon - 2010 - 214 pages - Google eBook - Preview Popular texts of the mid-eighteenth century articulate the potential (and terrifying) lesbian eroticism of the masculine woman; ... but tells the story of Mary East, who passes as James How and lives with another woman for thirty years, ...

Norton, Rictor, ed. "Mary East, the Female Husband", "The FEMALE HUSBAND; or a circumstantial Account of the extraordinary Affair which lately happened at POPLAR; with many interesting Particulars, not mentioned in the publick Papers." (London Chronicle, August 7-9, 1766). Homosexuality in Eighteenth-Century England: A Sourcebook. 6 December 2003. Accessed February 10, 2012 from <http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/1766east.htm>. See also: Rictor Norton, "Lesbian Marriages in 18th century England", Lesbian History, 18 August 2009, updated 11 February 2010 <http://rictornorton.co.uk/eighteen/lesbmarr.htm>

Vicinus, Lesbian subjects: a feminist studies reader - Page 242. books.google.com Martha Vicinus - 1996 - 273 pages - Preview One notable exception, however, was the early eighteenth-century case of the respectable innkeeper, "James How." Mary East and her friend had opened a public house in the 1730s in a village north of London, and by dint of hard work and ....