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08 September 2007

Lavinia Edwards (1809 - 1833) Actress

An actress, young, beautiful and Irish, Lavinia had never performed in London, where she lived, but had had leading parts at various provincial theatres.  She lived with Maria, who was presented as her sister and who was seven years younger. She sometimes used the name Eliza Walstein.

She and her sister had been living in London about three years and were supported by different gentlemen. At the age of twenty four, she developed inflammation of the lungs, and despite one visit from a doctor, died very quickly.

An inquest and post-mortem were held, wherein a Dr Clutterbuck realized that she was a 'man'. All the witnesses at the inquest, some of whom had known her for over a decade (that is, since before her puberty), were amazed to find out about her gender. Mary Mortimer, a fellow tenant, had even shared a bed with her many times, as young girls will, and had never noticed anything odd. The only suspicion came from Mrs Shellett, the rent collector, who thought that her cough was that of a man. It is noteworthy that she had decided on her course before puberty, and was able to pass while experiencing the changes of that time of life.

The jury, with the compassion of the time, ruled: 'That the deceased died by the visitation of God and the jury are compelled to express their horror at the unnatural conduct of the deceased, and strongly recommend the proper authorities that some means may be adopted in the disposal of the body which will mark the ignominy of the crime'.

Mr Alfred Taylor, surgeon at Guy's Hospital, having examined the body, wrote up the case as a paper in Medical Jurisprudence (1873). Therein he stated that her face was feminine but her body still masculine. 'The beard was carefully pulled out'.  Her well developed penis was bandaged in an upward position.
  • Alfred Taylor.  Medical Jurisprudence, ii, 1873: 473.
  • Richard von Krafft-Ebing. Psychopathia sexualis. Mit besonderen Berücksichtigung der konträren Sexualempfindung. Eine klinisch-forensische Studie, 6th ed. Stuttgart: Ferdinand Enke, 1892: case 150 p388.
  • C.J.S. Thompson. The Mysteries of Sex: Women Who Posed as Men and Men Who Impersonated Women London: Hutchinson. 1938. New York: Causeway Books 256 pp 8 plates1974. New York: Dorset Press, 1993: chp XXIV.

While we know of many FTM persons in the 19th century who passed for many years, or even until death, Lavinia is one of very few MTF persons to do so at that time.

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