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05 March 2012

Thomas Baker (1680 - 1749) milliner, playwright, molly, lawyer, schoolteacher, vicar

Baker was said to have been educated at Oxford. Between 1701 and 1708, when the London stage was in transition from the bawdyness of Restoration comedy to a new sentimental and moralistic style, four of his plays were performed in London: The Humour of the Age, 1701, Tunbridge-Walks, 1703, An Act at Oxford, 1704, revised as Hampstead Heath, 1705, The Fine Lady’s Airs, 1708.

Tunbridge-Walks was the most successful, and also the least bawdy. In the 1778-83 Encyclopedia Britannica and the 1782 Biographia Dramatica, David Baker (not known to be a relative) was of the opinion that Baker had in Tunbridge-Walks written the molly character, Maiden, based on himself, intending to place his own failings in a ridiculous light for the purpose of warning. For this reason, Trumbach regards Baker as the first molly that we know of. Maiden has what at that time were regarded as female accomplishments: he can sing, dance, play the guitar. He can also dress a woman in that he was once an apprenticed to a milliner. He likes women’s company but has never had sex with a woman. He and his friends gather in his chamber and dress and play as women. He “[loves] mightily to go abroad in Women’s Clothes,” especially to the theatre.

Baker is also credited as being Mrs Crackenthorpe who wrote in the tri-weekly satirical periodical, The Female Tatler, 1709-10. According to a rival paper, The British Apollo, Baker suffered a beating after a prominent London family was ridiculed in The Female Tatler, and Mrs Crackenthorpe ceased writing soon afterwards because of an “Affront offer’d to her by some rude Citizens, altogether unacquainted with her Person”.

After this Baker disappeared from the London literary scene. He acquired a position in Bedfordshire where he worked as a schoolmaster and vicar. After his death, said to be of the skin disease, morbus pediculosus, his successor wrote of him: “Baker was a man of strange turn, imperious and clamorous upon topics of no service towards the promoting of true religion in his parish and not a little addicted to stiff and dividing principles”.

*Not Tom Baker, also of Tunbridge Wells, the fourth Dr Who.


  1. I'm always confused with the term "molly." In it's original sense, was it referring more to a femme gay man, someone who would be more trans-ID'd today or a catch all term somewhat like kathoey?

  2. Obviously no modern terms match closely. If you cross-dressed as a woman in 18th century England, other than at carnival or on stage, and if you were not an aristocrat, then you would be a molly. I think that any attempt to distinguish between gay and trans is not going to work for this period, although rakes, sodomites and mollies were distinguished. I suggest the chapter by Trumbach that I cited. He is annoying in that he doesn't allow that mollies may be trans in the modern sense, but his is the best work so far on gay and trans in the period 1500-1800. He is clear that molly is a product of early modernity, and thus quite different from kathoeys and hijras who date from pre-modernity.

    I think that it is reasonable to compare the gallae of the Roman empire to hijras and kathoey. Where are such in medieval Europe? The christianists eradicated the gallae. For the next 1200 years there are only a handful of persons who are known to be trans in one sense or another (Joan of Arc etc), and none at all in a strong sense. Only with the coming of early modernity do trans persons reappear in Europe. The mollies were the first.

    The other part of Trumbach's thesis is that homosexuality also dates from only this period. Earlier, as in the ancient world, most men would have sex both with younger men and with women.


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