Edward I.P. Stevenson: Anna Mattersteig/Johann Burger, 1908

"She 'felt herself wholly like a man'"

by Jonathan Ned Katz. Copyright (c) by Jonathan Ned Katz. All rights reserved.

Anna Mattersteig’s claim, in Stevenson's report of about 1908, that she “ ‘felt herself wholly like a man’ ” suggests that Mottersteig may have actually thought herself to be of the male gender, what today is commonly labeled a transsexual identification. The term transsexual, however, is so loaded with traditional assumptions connecting gender and "masculinity" and "femininity" as to render it of the most controversial and doubtful character. The solution to the problem of confused gender can be of the gravest practical import to those who, seeking help, fall into the hands of those doctors claiming to be "experts" on the subject, and offering only surgical (or technological) treatment. Here, it must suffice to say that to label Anna Mattersteig transsexual does nothing to explain the complex interrelations between her presumable sexual activity with another woman, her male identification, and her cross-dressing and passing. According to Stevenson:

A pertinent case occurred lately in the city of St. Louis, in the United States of North America. Through the statement of a local physician, a type-setter in the town was taken into custody, when employed in the office of a local journal, on a charge of abduction and as being a woman, though known as "Johann Burger". The facts soon were clear. Anna Mattersteig was her real name. She was thirty years old. She was living matrimonially with another young woman, Martha Gammater, the daughter of a Leipzig jeweller, and had so lived before they came from Germany. Then, but apparently not earlier, Martha Gammater had discovered that she was the partner of a woman, not of a veritable man. The shock had made the wife insane. At the time of the arrest, she was in an asylum. Anna Mattersteig appeared in court in full male attire, and looked like a fine-appearing man. She disclaimed any intention of contravening the law, in respect of her impersonation and of the abduction (for such it had been) of her companion. She declared that she had assumed the role simply because she "felt herself wholly like a man" and was sure that only by a mistake of Nature had she come into the world at all otherwise. She "would suffer any penalty" rather than wear women's apparel.(1)

In reference to Martha Gammater, it would be elucidating to know if it was the alleged shock in discovering her husband was a woman or the shock of exposure and outraged public opinion that drove Gammater insane. It would also be interesting to know more about Mattersteig's prosecution for "abdudion"-what this socalled abduction entailed, and who brought her before the courts. The apparent illegality of Mattersteig's transvestite "impersonation" is the first time such a judicial issue has been mentioned; a study of the laws concerning female transvestism and impersonation would also be of interest.



  1. Stevenson, p. 148-49. Stevenson also describes in some detail the case of a "Mr. L. Z." or "Mrs. X." of Boston, a history reported to him by a Chicago physician. This doctor claims that the individual in question, while seeming to be of the female gender, exhibited some signs of physical hermaphroditism, which however, the individual had "no clear ideas" about until "well into adult life" (p. 140-44). Stevenson also reports: "The second officer of an -American ship, personally known to a friend of the writer of this study, is a woman...." (p. 254).