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07 January 2020

Donald Purcell (1914 - 1958) chauffeur, business man

In 1938 Purcell was living in Monton Green, Eccles, Manchester (map). He was accepted at Charing Cross Hospital in London and operated on by Dr Lennox Broster. An article in the Daily Mirror headlined “Doctor Changes Sex of 24: Patients Have Married”, concentrated on Purcell who was said to be taking the name Donald, although as his sister was quoted: “Doris was always a tomboy and my brothers called her Donald. … She knew all about motors and engineering, and was never happier than when tinkering with engines. …. Pretty frocks made no appeal to her. …. She never used paint or powder, and she smoked like a man”. The press discovered a special female friend, Charlotte, and wrote her up as Donald’s intended. This was not to be.

From his start as a chauffeur, Donald became a small business man. Donald took a wife, Lilian: they were married at Shrewsbury Register Office in May 1942. In 1946 they moved to Gorton, Manchester, close to where Donald’s mother had previously kept a small shop and off-licence. They adopted a son.

In January 1958, after two years of problems with his heart, Donald collapsed at home and was taken to hospital where he died – he was 44. His body was examined, and a policeman reported his death to Mrs Purcell, and also told her that her husband was a ‘woman’ – which came as a great surprise to her.
  • ‘Doctor Changes Sex of 24: Patients Have Married’, Daily Mirror, 5 May 1938: 2.
  • ‘Drama of Girls’ Surprise Meeting in Hospital Ward’, News of the World, 8 May 1938: 7.
  • ‘Police Tell Wife: Your Husband Was a Woman’, Daily Express, 27 January 1958, p. 1.
  • Alison Oram. Her Husband was a Woman!: Women's gender-crossing in modern British popular culture. Routledge, 2007: 115-6.
  • Alison Oram. “ ‘Farewell to Frocks’ – ‘Sex Change’ in Interwar Britain: Newspaper Stories, Medical Technology and Modernity” in Kate Fisher & Sarah Toulalan (eds). Bodies, Sex and Desire from the Renaissance to the Present. Palgrave Macmillan, 2011: 102, 109-10. 
  • Clare R Tebbutt. Popular and Medical Understandings of Sex Change in 1930s Britain. PhD Thesis, University of Manchester, 2014.:  88, 128-133, 139.

1 comment:

joanna Santos said...

It never ceases to amaze me how some spouses can be so obtuse as not to know the true sex of their spouse. I suppose we could chalk this one up to immaturity and lack of education. But unless Donald had ambiguous gentilaia file this one under supremely baffling :)