A fictional memoir of Lucy Ann Lobdell, a 19th-century American woman who sought her freedom while disguised as a man.
After her husband leaves for good, Lucy, a 25-year-old mother, realizes she has few options—she can work as a servant or marry any man who will have her. Instead, she creates a third option: She disguises herself as a man (bound breasts, cropped hair and all) and sets out to try her luck as a music and dance instructor in Honesdale, Pa., as far from her New York home as she can easily travel. As “Joseph” Lobdell, she finds not only a wealth of economic opportunity that she was denied as a woman, but also the chance to participate in intellectual and political discussions and become involved with her community. Much to her distress, she finds herself becoming invested in this life and loath to return home; she plans to send for her daughter one day but in the meantime, finds she enjoys the freedom of living her own way. Of course, as a woman posing as a man, Lucy is often in danger of being exposed and has to travel frequently to protect her secret, eventually leaving behind her daughter and the woman she came to love to establish herself in the wild Minnesota Territory. Lucy Ann Lobdell was a real person, expertly brought to life in this book. Although not a true memoir, it draws heavily from Lucy’s own accounts and from real-life stories and articles by those who encountered her. As a character, Lucy is troubled but hopeful, conflicted but always seeking a new path. Her understanding of her own struggles, and of those around her, makes her a fine lens through which to view her friends and neighbors. The book also ably addresses questions of personal freedom—what it means to Lucy and to others and how they seek it or keep others from it.
A well-crafted “memoir” of an unforgettable person, with plenty of questions about freedom, love and responsibility.