This site is the most comprehensive on the web devoted to trans history and biography. Well over 1700 persons worthy of note, both famous and obscure, are discussed in detail, and many more are mentioned in passing.

There is a detailed Index arranged by vocation, doctor, activist group etc. There is also a Place Index arranged by City etc. This is still evolving.

In addition to this most articles have one or more labels at the bottom. Click one to go to similar persons. There is a full list of labels at the bottom of the right-hand sidebar. There is also a search box at the top left. Enjoy exploring!

02 August 2008

Susan Faye Cannon (1925 - 1982) historian of science.

Walter Faw Cannon was born in North Carolina to a line of Methodist divines. His father was a former Dean of the Divinity School at Duke University. Walter escaped to Princeton University at the precocious age of 16. His physics degree was interrupted by war service in the US Navy.

Both at university and in the Navy, he considered himself to be a 'male woman' and was used sexually by 'straight' men. He had a severe stammer, but compensated for this and became a major debater.

Walter did a PhD at Harvard in the history of science, 'On uniformity and progression in early Victorian cosmography', and then held various university teaching positions in the subject.

In the 1950s he had a relationship with a lesbian friend who would screen men for him to see. They planned a marriage so that they could have children, but in the end they did not go through with it.

In 1962, Cannon joined the Smithsonian Institute where he would spend the rest of his professional life. His academic specialty was science in the Victorian period. He was active in poetry groups and his poems were published a few times in anthologies.

In the 1970s he also joined a transvestite social group. His mother died in 1974, and his lesbian friend in 1975. Little by little he changed his dress, first by carrying a purse, and then eventually he was a tall, balding, broad shouldered man in a skirt.

In 1976 Cannon legally changed her name to Susan Faye, and insisted on being called this at work. She was interviewed in May 1977 by The Washington Post and defined herself as a 'male woman'. 'I feel I'm dressing up as a clown when I wear men's clothes'.

Her major book is Science in culture: the Early Victorian Period, 1978, which was published as by Susan Faye Cannon. It won a major prize from the History of Science Society. However, her work situation deteriorated and there was growing pressure to get rid of her. In 1979 she came to a deal with the Smithsonian, and retired.

By now she was taking hormones, and had decided to have a sex-change. However she was 55 years old, had arthritis in her back, trouble with her eyes and stomach problems. She was a chain-smoker and addicted to painkillers. She was declared a recovered alcoholic after a session in a clinic. Susan had gender surgery with Dr Biber, at age 55, but never really recovered. Her intake of painkillers escalated, and a year later she was found dead, probably from overdoses of painkiller.
  • Susan Faye Cannon. Science in Culture: The Early Victorian Period. New York : Science History Publications, 1978. 
  • Aaron Latham & Andrea Grenadier. “The Ordeal of Walter/Susan Cannon” Psychology Today October 1982.


  1. I remember reading about her back in the 1980s in a 'Psychology Today' article. She was actually dead for 10 days before she was found, according to P.T. They wrote that she died from 'acute codeine intoxication.' She apparently didn't have any real close friends to check up on her even knowing she had serious health problems. Sad.

  2. This is true; we did include that information in the article, which was published in 1982. The magazine's lawyers thought we would be challenged on this, so it was removed. We were also threatened with a lawsuit by the surgeon who performed Susan Cannon's surgery, so the advice was to leave a lighter tread. It was sad, and this fine pioneer should have been celebrated far more than she was.


Comments that constitute non-relevant advertisements will be declined, as will those attempting to be rude. Comments from 'unknown' and anonymous will also be declined. Repeat: Comments from "unknown" will be declined, as will anonymous comments. If you don't have a Google id, I suggest that you type in a name or a pseudonym.