Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Paul R. Deslandes


“Declarations of Womanhood” examines the lives of individuals who were assigned male at birth and lived as women in the decades before the availability of sex reassignment surgery in the United States and the highly sensationalized transition of Christine Jorgensen. Shifting focus away from medical transition, of which the fifties-era press contended that individuals like Jorgensen and Charlotte McLeod “became” women through the act of surgery, this study moves toward a focus on social transition, exemplified through the words, actions, and social interactions of women moved away from their assigned gender before the 1950s. With their stories recounted in local and national newspapers across the country, they exercised their right to marry, had children or took care of a family, and had siblings or other family members who knew and sometimes supported them. They also became upstanding members of their communities, created close friendships and bonds with other women, and often did so for a substantial portion of their lives.

A myriad of primary sources has been utilized in the writing of this thesis, including photographs, illustrations, census documents, death certificates, marriage certificates, city directories, draft cards, a family history, court records, and, due to the growing digitization of newspapers, articles from local newspapers to national news organizations. An examination of these sources brings to light the interactions of various actors including local communities, medical practitioners, families, courts, law enforcement, and the press and its readers. The first half of the twentieth century remains an understudied area of trans history. Joining with the historiographical trend of pushing the timeline beyond the fifties, this thesis reconstructs the trans lives, livelihoods, and afterlives of nine women in the United States from the nineteenth to mid-twentieth century. In doing so, this study highlights the ubiquity of trans lives across the United States, from rural communities to bustling cities.



Number of Pages

191 p.