16 Remarkable Historical Figures who were Transgender

16 Remarkable Historical Figures who were Transgender

Natasha sheldon - December 31, 2018

16 Remarkable Historical Figures who were Transgender
Photograph of Lucille Hart (later Alan Hart) from 1911 college yearbook. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain.

9. Alan L Hart: The First Female to Male Gender Transition in American History

Alan Hart was born Lucille Hart on October 4, 1890. As a young child, Lucille found she much preferred dressing as a boy. On her grandparent’s farm, this was fine. However, the school forced Hart to dress and behave as a female. To counter this, Hart began to write for local publications using a male pseudonym and shying away from feminine topics. However, ‘she’ could not escape her defined sex and in 1917 was awarded a medical degree under his female name- even though sympathetic staff suffixed the records with the name Hart’s chosen name, Robert.

The new Dr. Hart began to explore ways to minimize his femininity. So he approached Dr. Joshua Gilbert of the University of Oregon and asked him if he could stop menstruation and remove any possibility of pregnancy. Gilbert examined Hart and declared him primarily male. As Gilbert deemed living as a woman was detrimental to Hart’s well-being, he then approved the removal of Hart’s womb. This operation was not only the first-ever hysterectomy of a healthy uterus; it also allowed Hart to change his sexual identity. Hart was able to deepen his voice and grow facial hair after the development of synthetic testosterone after the Second World War allowed. He married twice, and helped pioneer the use of X-ray in the treatment of TB,- as well as forging a successful second career writing novels.

16 Remarkable Historical Figures who were Transgender
Dora Richter. Google Images.

8. Dora Richter: The World’s First Male to Female Sex Change who was killed by the Nazis.

Rudolph Richter displayed a tendency from early childhood, to: “act and carry on in a feminine way.” ‘He’ expressed distaste for male clothing and at the age of six, tried to tourniquet his penis. After this, Rudolph’s family allowed him to live as a girl as much as possible. However, adult life was cruel. During the summer, Richter worked as a male waiter in various Berlin hotels. But when autumn came, he lived as a woman. This habit led to the authorities arresting and imprisoning Richter several times for cross-dressing. However, eventually, Richter encountered a liberal judge, who referred him to Magnus Hirschfeld, a Jewish-German doctor at the Institute for Sexual Research in Dresden.

Hirschfeld had already helped Kurt Baer make the transition from female to male. At the institute, he helped Richter obtain a permit to wear women’s clothes and employed him as domestic help. Richter became one of five such employees at the Institute who were treated entirely as women. In 1922, Dr. Erwin Gohrbandt medically castrated him. The castration made Richter’s body ” fuller, restricting her beard growth, making visible the first signs of breast development, and giving the pelvic fat pad… a more feminine shape.” After nine years, more surgery gifted Richter with a vagina – a world first-and finally removed her penis. However, Dora Richter’s new life was short-lived. In 1933, the Nazis attacked the Institute and killed many of the patients. Dora Richter was one of them.

16 Remarkable Historical Figures who were Transgender
Lile Elbe, unknown author. Picture Courtesy of Wellcome Images. Wikimedia Commons. Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International license.

7. Lili Elbe: “The Danish Girl” whose desire to live a full female life killed her.

The subject of the film, “The Danish Girl,” Lile Elbe is one of the most famous transgender figures of recent times. She was born Einar Wegener in Denmark in 1882. Einar showed no discernible signs of being transgender until his life changed forever when his wife, the illustrator Gerda Gottlieb asked him to stand in for one of the regular models she used for her illustrations in Paris fashion magazines. The effect of women’s clothing upon Einar was instantaneous. “I liked the feel of soft women’s clothing,” Einar later wrote.” I felt very much at home in them from the first moment.”

Einar began dressing as a woman regularly, accompanying Gerda about Paris, posing as her sister Lile. However, after fifteen years, Einar’s duel nature began to take its toll. He felt two people were fighting for supremacy over his body: the “steady and sensible” Einar and the “superficial, thoughtless and flighty,” Lile. After a suicide attempt, Lile won. Doctors referred Einar to the Dresden Institute where surgeons removed his penis and implanted ovaries. Lile and Gerda divorced, and Lile began a relationship with Claude Lejeune, a French art dealer with whom she hoped to have a child. In 1932, doctors implanted a womb transplant, but Lile’s body rejected it. By September Lile was dead of the resulting infection.


16 Remarkable Historical Figures who were Transgender
Christine Jorgensen, 1954. Picture Credit: Maurice Seymour. Wikimedia Commons. Public Domain

6. Christine Jorgensen: The First Transgender American to go public

Christina Jorgensen was not the first American to have a sex change as is often claimed, but she was the first transgender person to announce her gender reassignment publicly– and to fight to make the transgender phenomenon better understood. Born George William Jorgensen, in the Bronx in 1926 Jorgensen was a shy, frail, little boy who avoided rough games and fights. Jorgenson explained in later interviews that her childhood was happy. However, the onset of puberty led to the feeling she was a woman in a man’s body.

After hearing about pioneering work in Europe, Jorgensen began to explore making the transition from male to female. In 1950, he started taking estrogen under the supervision of Dr. Christian Hamburg and in 1951, began gender reassignment procedures in Copenhagen, Denmark. The surgery transformed Jorgenson physically and mentally. She chose a new name ‘Christina’ in honor of her doctor and in 1955 returned to America. An outgoing ‘Blond Beauty‘ now replaced the shy little boy and Christina Jorgenson fast became a celebrity; acting and entertaining as well as speaking up as an advocate for transgender people on TV and radio. She died in 1989 of bladder and lung cancer, having, as she put it given the sexual revolution “a good swift kick in the pants.”

16 Remarkable Historical Figures who were Transgender
Lucy Hicks Anderson. Google Images

5. Lucy Hicks Anderson: The Black American Transexual who pioneered marriage equality

Tobias Lawson was born in Kentucky in 1886. From his earliest childhood, he identified as female, insisting on girl’s clothes- and being referred to by the name ‘Lucy.’ Tobias’s desperate mother took him to see a doctor, who was surprisingly enlightened for the times and suggested that she raise her son as a girl. After school, Lucy worked as a domestic and in a hotel. Then in 1920, she married her first husband, Clarence Hicks. The couple moved to California, where Lucy saved up to open a brothel. In 1929, she divorced Hicks, remaining single until she married soldier Reuben Anderson in 1944.

Throughout this whole time, no one doubted that Lucy was biologically female (although her two husbands must have known the truth!). However, in 1945, the secret was out, and the authorities decided to prosecute her for fraud as she had married as a woman when she was physically male. Lucy, however, remained defiant. “I defy any doctor in the world to prove that I am not a woman. I have lived, dressed, acted just what I am, a woman.” She declared. The court placed her on probation for ten years. However, the US army was less sympathetic, and the following year, Lucy served time for receiving allotment cheques as Reuben Anderson’s wife.

16 Remarkable Historical Figures who were Transgender
Michael Dillon. Picture Credit: http://www.gendercentre.org.au/resources/polare-archive/archived-articles/the-worlds-first-transsexual-man.htm. Wikimedia Commons

4. Michael Dillon: British Transsexual and author of the first book on transgender identity

Michael Dillon was born Laura Maud Dillon, the second child of Robert Dillon, heir to the Baronetcy of Lismullen. Dillon never felt comfortable as a girl although he excelled at sports, winning a University sporting blue for rowing at Oxford. In 1939, Dillon took steps to alleviate some of the discomforts of living in a female body. He consulted George Foss, a Bristol doctor who used testosterone to treat extreme menstrual bleeding. Dillon asked for treatment to stop his periods altogether. So Foss referred Dillon to a psychiatrist- who duly spread the tale around the city, forcing Dillon to flee the scandal.

During the Second World War, Dillon lived as a man, working as a mechanic and air raid warden. One night, Dillon was hospitalized. However, he had the good fortune to encounter a sympathetic doctor who was also one of the world’s first plastic surgeons. The doctor performed a double mastectomy on Dillon and gave him a note so that he could become Laurence Michael Dillon. Between 1946-1949, Dillon had thirteen gender reassignment surgeries. He began to study medicine- and in 1946 wrote the first book about transgender identity: “Self: A Study in Endocrinology and Ethics.” “Where the mind cannot be made to fit the body, the body should be made to fit, approximately at any rate, to the mind, ” wrote Dillon.

16 Remarkable Historical Figures who were Transgender
Roberta Cowell. Google Images

3. Roberta Cowell: The Fighter pilot who became the first British Transgender woman to Undergo Gender Reassignment.

Born in 1918, Robert Marshall Cowell initially exhibited no doubts about his gender. He was an enthusiastic member of his school’s motor club and at sixteen became an apprentice aircraft engineer. In 1936, while studying for his engineering degree, Cowell also raced in several Grande Prix. However, during the Second World War, while serving as a British fighter pilot, Cowell was shot down and captured by the Germans and confined to Stalag Luft 1 prison of war camp. There, the married Cowell witnessed several of his fellow prisoners start same-sex relationships. Although he did not participate himself, Cowell found himself increasingly paranoid about being seen as feminine.

After the war, a depressed and traumatized Cowell separated from his wife and sought psychiatric help. Therapy and Michael Dillon’s groundbreaking book finally helped Cowell to come to terms with the fact that his “unconscious mind was predominantly female.” By 1950, Cowell and Dillon were friends, and in 1951, Dillon carried out Cowell’s gender reassignment surgery. In 1972, Cowell explained in an interview that this surgery was justifiable because she had a chromosomal abnormality, XX male syndrome. However, she was less than sympathetic to other transgender men seeking to change sex, claiming if they had standard XY chromosomes, reassignment surgery, would turn them into ‘freaks.’

16 Remarkable Historical Figures who were Transgender
Sir Ewan Forbes. Google Images

2. Sir Ewan Forbes: The Intersex Aristocrat who successfully inherited his family title.

Sir Ewan Forbes of Craigievar, the 11th Baronet, was born Elizabeth Forbes-Sempill on September 6, 1912. At birth, Forbes’s sex was hard to determine because he was intersex. So, his parents decided to designate him as a girl as it seemed the best option. However, as Forbes grew up, it was clear this was a mistake. He insisted on wearing boy’s clothes and preferred to play with his male cousins rather than his sister. Forbes even refused to be sent away to a girl’s school, forcing his parents to educate him at home until he was old enough to attend a co-educational institute in Dresden.

In 1945, Forbes qualified as a doctor and finally began to live as a man. By 1952, he had reregistered as male, changed his name and married his housekeeper. A press release revealed his change of gender was due to “…a ghastly mistake. I was carelessly registered as a girl in the first place.” In 1965, Forbes’ elder brother died childless, leaving Forbes his heir. A male cousin challenged the inheritance, on the grounds of Forbes’ original gender. However, the subsequent court case was found in Forbes’ favor because the initial determination of his sex was faulty. Ironically, as Forbes never had any children himself, his troublesome cousin eventually inherited his title and lands on his death in 1991.

16 Remarkable Historical Figures who were Transgender
Renee Richards after her defeat by Virginia Wade at 1977 US Open. Screenshot.AP Archive: YouTube

1. Renee Richards: The First Transgender Woman to Play a Professional sport.

Renee Richards is a world-renowned eye surgeon and in the 1970s was a famous international female tennis player. However, until she underwent gender reassignment surgery at the age of 41, Renee was a 6ft 2in surgeon called Richard Raskin. As Raskin, Renee had captained the Yale tennis team and won several tennis titles. However, despite marrying and fathering a son, Renee had always been conflicted about her sexual identity; a conflict she did not resolve until 1975 when her physical gender finally became female.

In 1976, Richards began to play tennis as a woman. However, her birth sex was quickly outed, and the US open promptly tried to stop her from competing as a woman by introducing a chromosome screening procedure. So Richards decided to sue. The USTA lawyer George Gowan attempted to argue that allowing Richards to play would be opening the floodgates to “worldwide experiments, especially in the Iron-Curtain countries, to produce athletic stars by means undreamed of a few years ago.” However, the judge observed there were relatively few athletes in Richard’s position – and ruled in her favor, allowing Richards to compete in the 1977 US Open. The judgment made Richards a trailblazer against transgender discrimination.

Where Do We Get this stuff? Here are our sources:

History Collection – 11 Remarkable Transgender People from History

National Geographic Channel – The Short Reign of Elagabalus, Rome’s Hard-Partying Emperor

Historic UK – Moll Frith

“Why tennis’s Renée Richards, the first transgender woman to play Professional sport, matters today”, Simon Briggs, The Telegraph, March 30, 2018.

The Newgate Calendar: Comprising Interesting Memoirs of the Most Notorious Characters Who Have Been Convicted of Outrages on the Laws of England Since the Commencement of the Eighteenth Century; with Occasional Anecdotes and Observations, Speeches, Confessions, and Last Exclamations of Sufferers, Volume2, Andrew Knapp and William Baldwin, J Robins and Company, 1825.

“When Jennie came marching home – An Irishwoman’s Diary on Albert Cashier and the US civil war”, Nora-Ide McAuliffe, The Irish Times, April 10, 2018

Crosscut – Meet Harry Allen, Transgender At-Risk Youth of Yesteryear

The Guardian – Gerda Wegener: ‘The Lady Gaga of the 1920s’

The Irish Times – Ireland’s Remarkable Trans Pioneer: ‘People Thought I Was A Woman, But I Was Just Me’

Scientific America – The Surprisingly Old Science of Living as Transgender

“How Catherine Madden Fell Victim to Strong Drink; Why Nell Pickerell Will Not Wear Women’s Clothing”, The Spokesman-Review, October 22, 1911

“Nell Pickerell Denies Her Sex; Woman Who Dresses in Male Attire Starts Story She is a “Real Man”; Rumor Causes Sensation; Sheriff Stone Brands Statement an Untrue Fabrication Result of Liquor,” The Spokesman-Review, November 22, 1911.

New York Times – Overlooked No More: Roberta Cowell, Trans Trailblazer, Pilot and Auto Racer

“Meet Nell Pickerell, transgender at-risk youth of yesteryear; She lived a century ago – as a man. But Nell’s story rings true today and parallels the experience of many Northwest street kids”, Knute Berger, Crosscut.com, June 30, 2014

Anderson, Lucy Hicks [Tobias Lawson] (1886-1954), Kevin Leonard, Black Past.org

BBC Sports – LGBT+ History Month: Renee Richards’ Journey from Tennis Outcast To Trans Pioneer