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24 May 2016

Frederik Vilhelm Schmidt (1845 – 1936) orphanage head, inmate

Frederikke Vilhelmine Møller, the daughter of a metal worker was raised in Copenhagen. Her father died in 1856, and she was raised by her grandparents. At age 20, working as a maid, Vilhelmine was jailed for stealing food for her impoverished mother and four small siblings.

From there she joined the congregation of Pastor Rudolph Frimodts, and was later employed at the new Godthaab orphanage in Frederiksberg.

In 1881 Vilhelmine Møller was appointed head of the Kana boys’ home. She was respected for her modern opinions on child rearing, and she was published in many magazines. In 1889 at the first public meeting of Kvindevalgretsforeningen – KVF (the Female Suffrage Association) 1500 women voted Møller onto the board.

On 28 February 1893 16-year-old Volmer Sjøgren (born 1878), one of Møller’s wards, died in bed after a birthday party. He was about to leave the home and take up an apprenticeship as a metal worker in Copenhagen. The doctor listed the cause of death as a blood clot and Volmer was buried.

However his roommate, Louis, told his mother that Matron Møller often called Volmer to share her bed. The mother contacted the chairman of the Kana board. The chairman dismissed the insinuation as ludicrous, but when he told Møller of the claim, she lost composure, collapsed and was admitted to hospital. After discharge she was interviewed by the police, who found her explanations inconsistent. She confessed to a five-year affair with Volmer, but denied killing him. The police exhumed his body but found no evidence of foul play.

At Easter Vilhelm attended religious services in prison, and then confessed that she had killed Volmer by adding a sedative to his fruit juice and then suffocated him in his bed, fearing that after leaving the home, he would disclose their relationship. The district judge wondered about Møller’s large and stocky figure and her deep voice, and finally asked her directly if she were a man. This she adamantly denied.

She was then examined by professor Stadfeldt who decided that Møller was not a woman, not a hermaphrodite, but a man. Møller was put into men’s clothing and transferred to the men’s prison at Christianshavn. Here he wrote an autobiography, in which he describes himself as Dobbeltmennesket (a double person). Further examination established genital ‘abnomalities’. It came out that Møller had also had sexual relations with an assistant, a young widow called Mackwitz. Such was Møller’s reputation as devout and respectable that Mackwitz was suspected of corrupting her boss. She was arrested, but released after two months.

Møller’s defense was based on the personal suffering and social circumstances of living in a false gender role. Møller’s mother testified that as her baby’s penis was so small, she thought that she had a daughter. However on 4 March 1894, under the male name of Vilhelmi Møller, he was condemned to death. The Supreme Court upheld this verdict 22 June. On 21 July Møller’s sentence was commuted by King Christian IX to hard labour for life. The next year, a Dr Stilhoff analysed the documents and published an account in a medical journal.

After eleven years, Vilhelmi Møller was released from Vridsløselille prison. In December 1905, Møller married Agnes Larsen (1858 - 1925) who had been a warder in the women’s prison where Møller had first been held, and had kept in touch by correspondence. He found work in the office of the lawyer who had defended him.

In 1907 Vilhelmi Møller changed his legal name to Frederik Vilhelm Schmidt.

He died aged 91 in Vangede, a suburb of Copenhagen.

In 2005 Karen Søndergaard Jensens published a novel Dobbeltmennesket about the life of Frederik Schmid.
  • H. Stilhoff. “Et Tilfaelda afmandlig Hermafroditisme (Kanasagen)”. Bibliotekfor Laeger, 6, 1896:210-234.
  • Karin Lützen. “La Mise en discours and Silences on the History of Sexuality” in Richard G. Parker & John H Gagnon. Conceiving Sexuality: Approaches to Sex Research in a Postmodern World. Routledge, 1994:38-9.
  • Karen Søndergaard Jensen. Dobbeltmennesket: Frederikke Vilhelmine Møller. Allerød: Kallisto, 2005. Webpage.
  • Else Cederborg. A World of Weird Truths and Truthful Weirdnesses. Authorhouse, 2011:96-7.
  • Sabine Meyer. 'Wie Lili zu einem richtigen Mädchen wurde': Lili Elbe: Zur Konstruktion von Geschlecht und Identität zwischen Medialisierung, Regulierung und Subjektivierung. "Wie Lili Zu Einem Richtigen Mädchen Wurde". [s.l.]: transcript, 2015: 16-7.
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