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Lucy Ann Lobdell: P.M. Wise, "Case of Sexual Perversion," January 1883

The Later Life of Lucy Ann Lobdel and Her "Lesbian love"

Wise's report is one of the earliest American medical journal articles to refer to the "Lesbian love" of a cross-dressing woman reportedly married to another woman.

CASE OF SEXUAL PERVERSION.

By P. M. Wise, M. D., Willard, N. Y.,

Assistant Physician of The Willard Asylum for the Insane.

The case of sexual perversion herewith reported, has been under the writer's observation for the past two years and since the development of positive insanity. The early history of her abnormal sexual tendency is incomplete, but from a variety of sources, enough information has been gleaned to afford a brief history of a remarkable life and of a rare form of mental disease.
CASE.-Lucy Ann Slater, alias, Rev. Joseph Lobdell, was admitted to the Willard Asylum, October 12th, 1880; aged 56, widow, without occupation and a declared vagrant. Her voice was coarse and her features were masculine. She was dressed in male attire throughout and declared herself to be a man, giving her name as Joseph Lobdell, a Methodist minister; said she was married and had a wife living. She appeared in good physical health; when admitted, she was in a state of turbulent excitement, but was not confused and gave responsive answers to questions. Her excitement was of an erotic nature and her sexual inclination was perverted. In passing to the ward, she embraced the female attendant in a lewd manner and came near overpowering her before she received assistance. Her conduct on the ward was characterized by the same lascivious conduct, and she made efforts at various times to have sexual intercourse with her associates. Several weeks after her admission she became quiet and depressed, but would talk freely about herself and her condition. She gave her correct name at this time and her own history, which was sufficiently corroborated by other evidence to prove that her recollection of early life was not distorted by her later psychosis.
It appeared she was the daughter of a lumberman living in the mountainous region of Delaware Co., N.Y., that she inherited an insane history from her mother's antecedents. She was peculiar in girlhood, in that she preferred masculine sports and labor; had an aversion to attentions from young men and sought the society of her own sex. It was after the earnest solicitation of her parents and friends that she consented to marry, in her twentieth year, a man for whom, she has repeatedly stated, she had no affection and from whom she never derived a moment's pleasure, although she endeavored to be a dutiful wife. Within two years she was deserted by her husband and shortly after gave birth to a female child, now living. Thenceforward, she followed her inclination to indulge in masculine vocations most freely; donned male attire, spending much of the time in the woods with the rifle, and became so expert in its use that she was renowned throughout the county as the "Female Hunter of Long Eddy." She continued to follow the life of trapper and hunter and spent several years in Northern Minnesota among the Indians. Upon her return to her native county she published a book giving an account of her life and a narrative of her woods experience that is said to have been well written, although in quaint style. Unfortunately the reporter has been unable to procure a copy of this book as it is now very scarce. She states, however, that she did not refer to sexual causes to explain her conduct and mode of life at that time, although she considered herself a man in all that the name implies. During the few years following her return from the West, she met with many reverses, and in ill health she received shelter and care in the alms-house. There she became attached to a young woman of good education, who had been left by her husband in a destitute condition and was receiving charitable aid.(1)
The attachment appeared to be mutual and, strange as it may seem, led to their leaving their temporary home to commence life in the woods in the relation of husband and wife. The unsexed woman assumed the name of Joseph Lobdell and the pair lived in this relation for the subsequent decade; "Joe," as she was familiarly known, followed her masculine vocation of hunting and trapping and thus supplying themselves with the necessaries of life.
An incident occurred in 1876 to interrupt the quiet monotony of this Lesbian love. "Joe" and her assumed wife made a visit to a neighboring village, ten miles distant, where "he" was recognized, was arrested as a vagrant and lodged in jail.
On the authority of a local correspondent, I learn that there is now among the records of the Wayne Co. (Pa.) Court, a document that was drawn up by the "wife" after she found "Joe" in jail. "It is a petition for the release of her 'husband, Joseph Israel Lobdell' from prison, because of 'his' failing health. The pen used by the writer was a stick whittled to a point and split; the ink was pokeberry juice. The chirography is faultless and the language used is a model of clear, correct English." The petition had the desired effect and "Joe" was released from jail. For the following three years they lived together quietly and without noticeable incident, when "Joe" had a maniacal attack that resulted in her committal to the asylum before-mentioned.
The statement of the patient in the interval of quiet that followed soon after her admission to the asylum, was quite clear and coherent and she evidently had a vivid recollection of her late "married life." From this statement it appears that she made frequent attempts at sexual intercourse with her companion and believed them successful; that she believed herself to possess virility and the coaptation of a male; that she had not experienced connubial content with her husband, but with her late companion nuptial satisfaction was complete. In nearly her own words; "I may be a woman in one sense, but I have peculiar organs that make me more a man than a woman." I have been unable to discover any abnormality of the genitals, except an enlarged clitoris covered by a large relaxed praeputium. She says she has the power to erect this organ in the same way a turtle protrudes its head-her own comparison. She disclaims onanistic practices. Cessation of menstrual function occurred early in womanhood, the date having passed from her recollection. During the two years she has been under observation in the Willard Asylum she has had repeated paroxysmal attacks of erotomania and exhilaration, without periodicity, followed by corresponding periods of mental and physical depression. Dementia has been progressive and' she is fast losing her memory and capacity for coherent discourse.

Referring to other early European reports of "congenital" female and male homosexuality, Dr. Wise says that Krafft-Ebing

discusses fully the relation of society to these sufferers and suggests they should be excepted from legal enactments for the punishment of unnatural lewdness; thus allowing them to follow their inclinations, so far as they are harmless, to an extent not reaching public and flagrant offense.
It would be more charitable and just if society would protect them from the ridicule and aspersion they must always suffer, if their responsibility is legally admitted, by recognizing them as the victims of a distressing monodelusional form of insanity. It is reasonable to consider true sexual perversion as always a pathological condition and a peculiar manifestation of insanity.
The subject possesses little forensic interest, especially in this country, and the case herewith reported is offered as a clinical curiosity in psychiatric medicine."(2)

With that summation does Dr. Wise close his 1883 report of the remarkable Lucy Ann Lobdell.

Willard Psychiatric Center Archives (Willard, New York)

Historical research in the archives of what is now called the Willard Psychiatric Center (Willard, New York) has revealed the existence of the original medical records of Lucy Ann Slater.

The records include four items: two certificates of insanity, each signed by a doctor; a judge's admission order; and the doctors' logbook with two large pages of entries concerning Lucy Ann Slater. 

Certificates of Insanity

Both certificates of insanity, in almost identical words, list the doctors' reasons for Lucy Ann Slater's commitment. One reads:

1st She is uncontrollable indecent & immoral & insists on wearing male attire calling herself a huntress
2nd She threatens the lives of her companions.
3rd She does herself violence.(3)

Doctors' Logbook Entries

The doctors' logbook, covering ten years. begins:

Lucy Ann Slater

Hancock-

Delaware Co.

Admitted, Oct. 12th 1880.

Age 56-Single Widow-N.Y.-Vagrant-Has had good common education. No religion-Said to be hereditary on maternal side-Insanity commenced over twenty, years ago. The early history of her insanity is unknown. It is said she has worn male attire for twenty years. She claims to be a man at times. At other times she says she wears it because it is more convenient for hunting purposes-Has never been in an asylum, but has been in the county alms house at different times, and is now transferred from there.-She has usually been considered harmless & wandered about the country without molestation, but latterly she has made some threats of violence-…
When admitted she was in good bodily health, conversation was incoherent & actions silly. She was dressed throughout in male attire, and said she intended to continue to wear it.
Dementia
The record states that Lucy Ann Slater was "brought from the county alms house" by its keeper, and the superintendent of the poor, on his order and by the medical certification of two doctors. A following entry, partially obscured, indicates that she "has been very much disturbed" at times, and that her physical health is poor, characterized by lung irritation and "severe hemorroids. Remains in bed." The logbook continues:
Feb. 23rd 1881. Hall # 2. Dorm. Condition has improved, and for the past two months she has been quite composed. Frequently wet and dirty at night. Occasionally destructive.
Jan. 7th 1882. Has had several periods of disturbance since the above. When she is excited she calls herself Jos. & when composed Lucy. Bodily health fair.
Aug. 3rd 1882. Is gradually becoming more demented, and erotic tendencies weakening. Her perversion of sexual inclination continues. She says she' lived with Maria Perry for twelve years and wanted to marry her but Maria would not consent. She attempted to have sexual intercourse with her. At present she is incoherent & foolish-
Oct. 25th 1882. She has been disturbed for about a week. Her sexual perversion is not usually well marked; Bodily strength fair
Nov. 7th [18]83. Has been fairly quiet through the summer, and altogether more comfortable. Has had less sexual perversion. Dementia increasing. Practices masturbation and the practice is increasing. No menses.
Feb. 19-1885. When quiet talks quite well and is inactive. Excitement lasts for shorter periods and quiet lasts longer. Was slightly excited a short time since. When disturbed is wet and dirty at night, violent, talkative and noisy and inclined to cohabit with other patients, restless and sleepless, tears bedding. She is now quiet and good natured. Physical health good.
June 5-1885. Has passed through an excited period twice since last entry but neither of them were very marked. Transferred today to D. B. 4. Has slept in dormitory but on account of erotic tendencies needs a single room at times.
March 24th 1886. 2 D. B. 4-Since transfer has been usually quiet orderly, & pleasant, and bodily health good. Yesterday she had an attack of facial paralysis of the left side with loss of sensation & partial loss of motion in the affected side. Not much constitutional disturbance & refuses to go to bed.
April 6th 1887. Has apparently recovered from the above attack & is about the [illegible] as usual. Though at times complains of headaches.
Ap. 2nd 1888. Has been excited & restless & untidy a part of the year.
May 1st 1889. No change.
March 19-[18]90. Continues in good bodily health. Has improved somewhat & says "she has gotten over her old ideas." Has been quiet and orderly for some months past.

Thus ends the last log book entry; Lucy Ann Lobdell apparently died a short time later.(4)

Newspaper Report

An unidentified, undated newspaper clipping attached to the doctors' logbook mentions Lobdell Slater's death, and her "wife." It reads:

THE HUNTERS OF LONG EDDY.

Not far from Teeple's home is the spot where Lucy Ann Lobdell Slater, the female hunter of Long Eddy, an account of whose romantic life recently appeared in the Press, lived for several years with her crazy "wife." This wife of the "female hunter" is now about forty-five years old and she still lives near here. Her hair is as white as snow, and since the death of her "female husband" she has been in poor health.(5)

Summary by Jonathan Ned Katz (1976)

The key to understanding Lobdell's difficulties and later decline into madness seems to lie in the conflict of this assertive, intelligent, 'proud female with that behavior her society declared proper and' Improper for women. As a feminist, Lobdell early pushed against these social restraints and limiting definitions, a woman finally trapped and doomed by her inability to work her way free of them.

In Lobdell's life there is a complex connection between feminist protest, transvestism, lesbianism and her theologically based association of sin, guilt, punishment, physical illness, and mental derangement. Lobdell's description of Dr. Hale connects his wrongheaded castigation of her (for debating the local preachers) and Hale's subsequent transformation into a "poor crazy being" incarcerated in an asylum, a fate which oddly foreshadows Lobdell's own later state."

In another section of Lobdell's autobiography (not quoted because of its peripheral relevance), Lobdell also suggests that the troubles and physical Illness (cancer) of a Peter Smith are punishment for "sin."(6)

Other passages in her Narrative suggest the connection in her mind between sinning and suffering. It is not difficult to imagine the moral pressures upon on unconventional woman like Lobdell, and her own susceptibility to guilt over sexual interest in women. Her religious training no doubt made her aware of the passage in the Bible (Romans 1:26, King James translation) condemning "vile affections": "for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature."

Lobdell's own eventual madness may be understood as the final stage in a complex personal-historical chain leading from aspiration, to assertion, to transvestism, to lesbianism, to overt persecution (her being jailed upon the discovery of her sex), to guilt, to derangement. 

Note by Jonathan Ned Katz (September 8, 2016)

In retrospect, as a historian of transgender history, I now think it is the researcher's and interpreter's job to try to understand the changing terms available by which individuals understood themselves, and by which others understood sex and gender changing persons. I woud not now try to label a person in the past according to our present-day terms and concepts. 

Notes

Reprinted from Jonathan Ned Katz, Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A (1976).

  1. Additional information about Lobdell's "wife's" background, and important details of their life together are reported by Dr. James G. Kiernan of Chicago in a medical journal article of 1884. the year following Wise's report. Referring to the mother of Lobdell's "wife," Kiernan says that she
    had a neurotic ancestry, but received a fine education and was brought up in refinement. She fell in love with a young farmer, and married him much against her parents' wishes. The match proved unfortunate, she being naturally of a high spirit and of very sensitive nature and unable to help the hard-toiling farmer. He was prudent, did not give his wife the comforts of life to which she had been accustomed, and she became demonstrably insane. She finally deserted her home and was found one morning behind a pile of wood in the town of Rockland, Mass., clasping to her bosom a new-born babe. The child was taken care of by friends until the mother died. She grew up a beautiful girl, but when about 17 years old she seemed to have an inclination to wander about. She displayed a great liking for boyish games and attire, but a repugnance to suitors. She was persuaded into a marriage by a man to whom she became so repugnant that he deserted her and she sought refuge in a Pennsylvania almshouse where she met [Lucy Ann Lobdell]....
    Leaving the almshouse, the two women took up life in the woods as husband and wife, Lobdell assuming the name "Joe" and providing for them by hunting and trapping. Kiernan continues: in ••• In I876, the two returned, the wife introduced her 'husband' to her uncle. She was kindly received, and her husband was hired to work about the place.
    One day suspicion was aroused that 'Joe' was a woman in disguise, which on investigation proved to be the fact, the uncle was so indignant that he caused her arrest. She was imprisoned for four months, during which time the 'wife' visited her and carried delicacies to her. At length neighbors in the vicinity of the lawyer's home prevailed upon him to have the young woman released. When she came out of prison she lived with her 'wife' again.
    At that time the estate of the 'wife's' mother was settled, and the share that fell to her was real estate valued at several thousand dollars. This property she has not claimed, but is still in Pennsylvania, leading her curious and most remarkable life although 'Joe,' her 'husband,' is at present in the Willard asylum for the insane. She is now about 40 years old, while, 'Joe,' her curious 'husband,' is a few years her senior....
    Although the only source Kiernan mentions is Wise's 1883 report, Kiernan's own article contains important information not in Wise (James G. Kiernan, "Original Communications. Insanity. Lecture XXVI.-Sexual Perversion," Detroit Lancet, vol. 7, no. II [May 1884], p.482-83).

  2. P. M. Wise, "Case of Sexual Perversion," Alienist and Neurologist (St. Louis, Mo.), vol. 4, no. I (Jan. 1883), p. 87-91. Wise's information (and asylum records stating) that Lobdell was fifty-six when she entered the Willard Asylum in Oct. 1880 means that she was born in 1824. This does not match Lobdell's own statement that she was born in 1829 (Lobdell, p. 4).

  3. H. A. Gates, M.D., "Certificate of Insanity," signed Oct. II, 1880. The other "Certificate of Insanity" is signed on the same date by John Calhoun, M.D. The "Order of Admission, No. 2680" for Lucy Ann Slater, is dated Oct. 12, 1880. The above and the doctors' logbook concerning Lucy Ann Slater (Oct. 12, 188o-March 19, 1890) are in the archives of the Willard Psychiatric Institute, Willard, N.Y.

  4. An article by James G. Kiernan says that Lobdell Slater "died in the Willard Hospital for the Insane" ("Psychological Aspects of the Sexual Appetite," Alienist and Neurologist [St. Louis, Mo.] vol. 12 [April 1891], p. 202-03).

  5. Quoted in Katz, Gay American History, note 27, page 601.

  6. Lobdell, p. 15-16.

Bibliography
Primary Sources: (Under Construction)

Albany, NY. "Romantic Paupers. The Strange History of Two Penniless Women.  Daily Albany Argus. August 28, 1871.

Certificate of Insanity.

Cincinnati, OH. "Romantic Paupers. Two Penniless Women Live Together as Man and Wife-Their Strange Histories-an Unfortunate Girl." Cincinnati Daily Times (Cincinnati, OH), August 28, 1871 Volume: LIII, Issue: 11089, Page: 3.  

Death Certificate of Lucy Ann Lobdell. 

Honesdale, PA. "Lucy Ann Lobdell--The Wayne County Female Hunter Dead," Wayne County Herald, July, 2, 1885. [Incorrect obituary.] 

New York, NY. "Death of a Modern Diana," New York Times, 7 October 1879. [Incorrect obituary.]

Secondary Sources (Under Construction)
Dinshaw, Carolyn. "Born Too Soon, Born Too Late: The Female Hunter of Long Eddy, circa 1855." In David A. Powell, ed. 21st Century Gay Culture (Newcastle, UK: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, 2008), pages 1-12) Accessed November 28, 2014 from: http://english.as.nyu.edu/docs/IO/3693/Dinshaw_TheFemaleHunter.pdf

Katz, Jonathan Ned. Gay American History: Lesbians and Gay Men in the U.S.A. (NY: Thomas Y. Crowell, 1976), pages 214- 225.

Sloop, John M. "Lucy Lobdell's Queer Circumstances." In Morris, III, Charles E. Queering Public Address: Sexualities in American Historical Discourse (Studies in Rhetoric/Communication). June 30, 2007 

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See also:
For another OutHistory report about a cross-dressing, married woman see: Fincher's Trades' Review: "A Curious Married Couple," 1863