LGBT History – August 1888: Lifelong Transman Discovered As Patient At Fort Madison, Iowa Prison Hospital

Fort Madison

In August of 1888. A regular column in the nineteenth-century journal The Medical Standard included a roundup of items submitted by doctors from the then 38 states, several territories and a number of Canadian provinces.

More of a “This and That” column without having much real basis in actual medicine. Many of the notices were nothing more than gossip: the practice of a “voodoo doctor” in Georgia,  a “magnetic healer” in Kentucky “who is is ‘curing’  hysterical females in great numbers at Bowling Green.” (Women were commonly diagnosed with “hysteria” in the nineteenth century for being sexually repressed and and frigid because of the “moral code” of its time.  Barbarically its cure was sometimes a hysterectomy.)

Among those notices was this case from Iowa:

A case of sexual perversion has been discovered in the Ft. Madison penitentiary. A woman from her early youth had dressed in male attire, was universally regarded as a man, married and lived with a woman as a husband. She was recently arrested for horse-stealing and sent to the penitentiary; in the hospital of which her sex was discovered.

No other information can be found about this person.

The Ft. Madison penitentiary was established in 1839, seven years before Iowa’s statehood. The old facility, expanded several times over the years, is still in use today as the Iowa State Penitentiary, making it the oldest operating prison west of the Mississippi.

Will Kohler

Will Kohler is a noted LGBT historian, writer, blogger and owner of Back2Stonewall.com. A longtime gay activist, Will fought on the front lines of the AIDS epidemic with ACT-UP and continues fighting today for LGBT acceptance and full equality. Will’s work has been referenced in notable media venues as MSNBC and BBC News, The Washington Post, The Advocate, The Daily Beast, Hollywood Reporter, Raw Story, and The Huffington Post

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