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The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell

 by William Klaber, Greenleaf

This is a man’s world, and Lucy Ann Lobdell decided there was only one way to face it: “I made up my mind to dress in men’s attire to seek labor,” she wrote in 1855. “And as I might work harder at house-work, and get only a dollar per week, and I was capable of doing men’s work, and getting men’s wages, I resolved to try.”

William Klaber’s intriguing novel, The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell, picks up the story here, as Lucy, abandoned by her husband and needing money, leaves home in her brother’s clothes as Joseph Lobdell. Enough is known about Lobdell’s life for Klaber to fill in the blanks convincingly—from the New York-Pennsylvania border, where Lucy grew up rambunctious and impoverished, to Minnesota Territory, where Joseph chased the dream of living free while guarding land claims on the frontier.

Lobdell’s true-life story reads like fiction; Klaber embellishes it rather than creating out of whole cloth, which makes Rebellion more believable and pointed. In fact, Lobdell numbers among the known handful of American women who successfully presented themselves as men: Deborah Sampson, who fought in the Revolutionary War; Sarah Emma Edmonds, who fought in the Civil War; and Charley Parkhurst, the one-eyed California stagecoach driver whose gender was revealed after death.

Joseph Lobdell was both admired and ridiculed; the loudest attackers were often those who found out “he” wasn’t, genetically speaking, the swell fellow they thought “him” to be. For all of Klaber’s tender care, his fictional Lobdell is a broken character, plagued by declining physical and mental health. But Klaber spares Joseph the final indignities of the real-life Lobdell, who was declared insane in 1880, sent to an asylum near Seneca Falls, N.Y. (the birthplace of the U.S. women’s movement) and died 32 years later in a state psychiatric hospital.


Originally published in the August 2013 issue of American History. To subscribe, click here.