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Top 10 Famous Women Disguised as Men to Get Ahead

At a time when laws were put in place to prevent women from rising, some women managed to rise against the odds to succeed. There were tailor-made myths for women to make them shy away from many golden opportunities. However, some women disguised as men and managed to fake masculinity to get into the army for the love of their country, and some for the undying love they had for their husbands. The soldiers in the 18th century were known to sleep in their uniforms, so it was a bit easy for the women to keep up the deceit. Some like Kathrine Switzer were victorious in their battle for gender equality, while others suffered the most brutal penalties for going against the law. Here are some of the world’s most amazing women in history.

James Barry

James Barry

Born Margaret Ann Burkley, he planned to study medicine in Edinburgh disguised as a man then practice medicine as a woman in Venezuela once Francisco De Miranda, whom he had connections to, had taken over Venezuela. On the contrary, Barry started his career as a distinguished army surgeon in Cape Town, South Africa, and finished as Inspector General of military hospitals. Barry’s managed to get through medical school and the army partly through the support of his connection, Lord Buchan. Though he had a bad temper, his skills as a doctor were supreme. He was hated by Florence Nightingale, who described him as the most hardened creature she had ever met. He was the first British surgeon to perform a C-section successfully.

When Barry died in 1865 from dysentery, his maid, who laid him out for the funeral, discovered that he was a woman. A scandal arose forcing the army to shut down access to Barry’s papers up until the 1950s. oinUp until now, there have not been any conclusive testimonies to ascertain Barry’s gender.[1]

Kathrine Switzer

Kathrine Switzer
Race director Jock Semple tries to remove Switzer from the Boston Marathon in 1967 | CREDIT: BOSTON GLOBE

At the age of 20, in 1967, she became the first woman to run the Boston marathon officially. At that time, it was very contentious for a woman to participate in one of the world’s most famous marathons. Women could not run more than 1500 meters in sanctioned races. Kathrine managed to register herself by writing her maiden names in initials leaving only her surname. The organizers thus presumed she was a man up until they saw her on the course. The race director spotted her and tried to yank her off the course, but her coach defended her, and they let her finish. After the race, Switzer got disqualified and expelled from the athletic federation for running beyond the legal limit of the 1500m set for women. Despite all the stress, she endured in the race, and she gave rise to a social campaign for equality in sports. Because of her, in 1972, women were allowed to compete in the Boston Marathon officially.[2]

St. Marina the Monk

St. Marina the Monk

A victim of imposture, St Mariana the Monk’s incorrupt body is being preserved from decay in full display at Santa Maria Formosa church in Venice, Italy. She is known to have suffered the consequences of posing as a male monk in the monastery. She disguised herself to join her father in the monastery after making a decision not to get married. While still a monk, she was accused of rape and fathering the child of Paphnotious’ daughter, an adulterer, who got pregnant by a visiting soldier. The innkeeper scolded marina, and disciplinary action was taken against her at the monastery, but she did not defend herself.

She was expelled from the monastery by Abbot and later accepted back but with strict conditions. She was forced to take and raise the child. She spent the rest of her life living ascetically and taking full responsibility for raising the child. Her gender, impeccable character, and innocence of adultery were only revealed on her death as she was being prepared for burial.[3]

Hua Mulan

Hua Mulan

It is said that her story could be more fictitious than real, but until proven wrong, Hua Mulan stands to be a heroine and legend. She demonstrated love and bravery at a time when China was in war and chaos. When the emperor gave orders for all male adults to register in the army, she went to war in place of her old and ailing father, disguised as a man. She managed to survive the war and was offered an official position, which she declined. She instead requested for a good horse to allow her return to her family. At her home, her escorts, who had accompanied her on her journey, were amazed when Mulan changed into female attire and revealed her femininity. Mulan’s story has been adapted in a popular animated cartoon by Disney. Additionally, her story is included in all Chinese textbooks.[4]

Rena ‘Rusty’ Kanokogi

women disguised as men Rena-‘Rusty’-Kanokogi

Kanokogi had a brief moment of victory after she was stripped of her title after she won her fight in the judo contest. Denied a chance to compete in the city’s judo clubs, she had to find a creative way to compete. She had short hair and an athletic build that enabled her to participate in the male contest. She stepped in as an alternate when a male team member was injured, with tape around her breast to conceal her femininity she won the fight. It was not until she won the contest that the judges raised questions on her gender. She went to Japan, where she became the first woman at the main dojo with men. Kanakogi succeeded in championing the fight for women to be allowed to compete in judo contests in the united states. She was honored with the Emperor’s Award for the Rising Sun for being an influential foreigner in Japanese society.[5]

Elisa Bernerström

Elisa was a Swedish lady who disguised herself as a male soldier in the name of love. She so much loved her husband that she was willing to go to war to be with him. During the Finnish War of 1808-1809, women were not allowed to be war soldiers. Though her husband was reported to be dead during the war, she did not believe it and proceeded to Pitea where her identity was discovered. She was however found out and dismissed but rewarded with a medal of honor for her bravery. Her husband, who had been captured as a war prisoner, was released a year later in 1810. She is remembered for her fearlessness and undying love for her husband that cannot be matched.[6]

Sarah Edmonds

women disguised as men - Sarah-Edmonds

Her father resented her a lot because he did not have any sons. One day she fled from her Canadian home in New Brunswick to escape an arranged marriage. To make herself untraceable to her father, she changed her name from Edmondson to Edmonds and got a job in Moncton. In planning to immigrate to the united states undetected, she disguised herself as a man and took the name, Franklin Thompson. She enlisted herself as a volunteer in the civil war. She served as a nurse, mail carrier, and as a spy too.

In 1863, she fell ill and had to disappear as she risked being discovered at the hospital. Upon returning, she was charged with desertion and had to spend the rest of her life as a female nurse writing the memoirs of her life adventures. After a long campaign, she received her pension and became the first woman to j the Grand Army of the Republic.[7]

Pirate Mary Read

Pirate Mary Read

She started practicing the art of disguise quite early in her life. Born out of wedlock, her mother had to dress her as a boy to assume the identity of her deceased brother. She joined the British military and returned from war. She then got married, but after the demise of her husband, working as a sailor on a Dutch ship, she was forced to decide on whether to become a pirate or die.

She became a successful pirate but later got caught up in a love triangle with another female pirate, Anne Bonny, disguised as a man. The two women were tough and resisted arrest when their ship was captured. Upon being discovered and charged with piracy, they claimed to be pregnant to evade execution. Mary died in 1720 from fever while in prison. It is not known, however, how or where her friend Bonny ended up.[8][9]

Corporal Ulrika Eleonora

Corporal Ulrika Eleonora

Born in Sweden in 1688 she disguised herself as a man and fled from her home after the death of her parents. Her relatives had arranged a marriage for her that she did not approve. She joined the military as William and rose up the ranks to Corporal. Ulrika late got married to a lady who only later discovered and gladly accepted her gender.

Nine years later, Ulrika’s sister uncovered her secret, causing her to exile herself from Sweden only to face arrest on her return. Despite serving in the country for many years, she and her wife were imprisoned for a month. They were later acquitted for the charge of homosexuality based on their marriage, not being consummated. Ulrika was forced to separate with the love of her life and died five years later.[10]

Agnodice

women disguised as men - Agnodice

In the field of medicine, Agnodice is a legend. She rose against all the odds to become the first female doctor of Greece. She cut her hair, dressed in male clothes, and got admitted to Herophilos as a student of medicine. As a doctor she once lifted her clothes, to prove her femininity, to a lady in labor who insisted on being assisted by a woman.

Soon, more women started requesting for her medical services causing male doctors to accuse her of luring the women by seducing them. At her trial in court, she again lifted her clothes to prove that she was a woman. Her revelation was received with opposition for she had gone against the law by studying medicine. Women well-defended Agnodice for revolutionizing healthcare for women. The law banning women from studying medicine was since then amended.[11]

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