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22 July 2022

Friederike Blank, curtain maker (1799-1853)

Blank was raised in Lower Saxony and Saxony-Anhalt.  After the parents separated, Blank learned sewing and embroidery from his mother. As an adult Blank made a successful living as a self-employed "curtain stitcher", and achieved a good reputation in the trade. Blank’s own flat was noted for its decoration. 

Blank transitioned and lived full time as female, asked the authorities to recognise her female name, Friederike, and announced an engagement to a craftsman. She was also known for being sexually available and put it out that she had a vagina. 

However she was passing on gonorrhoea. A l7-year-old tailor's apprentice went to Dr Hieronymus Fränkel for treatment, and was questioned. Fränkel notified the police and Blank was brought in for questioning. She appeared in court in 1845 under her male name of Süsskind Blank, and was sentenced to three months in a male prison. She was again arrested on similar charges and sentenced to six months. 

In 1853 she was arrested again and while being transported to prison managed to throw herself into a river and end her life at age 54.

 Dr Fränke quickly wrote up the case as a pathology, but also described her femininity as a silly affectation. 

“With this death, the source of a poison is stopped up, which for many years has been infecting an incalculable number of young men”. 

He described Blank’s flat as the "Boudoir of an Elegant Harlot", and cited the prescription of Deuteronomy 22, 5 against cross-dressing. 

Eleven years later, in his pamphlet Inclusa, the pioneering gay activist Karl Heinrich Ulrichs who regarded both gay men and trans women as Urnings, both having an inner feminine nature, quoted at length but disagreed with Fränkel’s article. Where Fränkel found a "silly affectation", Ulrichs found an "inner feminine nature". In 1865, in his Vindicta, he blamed the Prussian courts for Blank’s death: 

 “They have acted immorally. No matter what kind of vices he had, knowingly or otherwise, he did nothing different from what Dionings do, and Dionings are not put to shame or subjected to persecution.”

  • Hieronymus Fränkel, “Homo mollis,” Medicinische Zeitung vom Verein für Heilkunde in Preußen,1853, 22, 102–3, 102.
  • Hubert Kennedy. Ulrichs:The Life and Works of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs, Pioneer of the Modern Gay Movement. Alyson Publications, Inc, 1988: 59-60.
  • Bernd-Ulrich Hergemöller. Mann für Mann : biographisches Lexikon zur Geschichte von Freundesliebe und mannmännlicher Sexualität im deutschen Sprachraum. Hamburg: MännerschwarmSkript, 1998: under “Blank, Süsskind”.
  • Rainer Herrn. Schnittmuster des  Geschlechts: Transvestitismus und Transsexualität in der frühen Sexualwissenschaft. Psychosozial—Verlag, 2005: 26.
  • Ross Brooks. “Transforming Sexuality: The Medical Sources of Karl Heinrich Ulrichs (1825–95) and the Origins of the Theory of Bisexuality” Journal of the History of Medicine and Allies Sciences, 67, 2, 2010: 207-9.
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Süsskind or Süßkind  means 'sweet child'.   However this has no significance, it was a common name among Jewish Germans at that time.

Dionings are heterosexuals, to use a later term.

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