LGBT history month: The story of James Barry

Posted in: LGBT+ history

LGBT History Month is a great time to raise awareness of the contribution of the LGBT community and combat the prejudice that we can still face today.   I have always been interested in social history and I find it hard to imagine what it must have been like to be LGBT in less enlightened times.

James Barry was a military surgeon who died in 1865.  Barry was born in Ireland, got his medical degree from Edinburgh and then had a distinguished career in the army.  When he retired he was in charge of military hospitals, the second highest medical role in the British Army.  He improved conditions for wounded soldiers, local inhabitants and performed one of the first successful caesareans in Africa.

What was different about Barry was that he was female.  Margaret Bulkley was born around 1790 and assumed a male identity to enable him to study at Edinburgh and then enter the army.  He maintained this identity for the rest of his life.

It was only after his death that it was discovered that Barry was indeed female when there was a dispute about his death certificate.  Despite this controversy and the British Army trying to suppress the story, James Barry is buried in London as James Barry and with his full military rank.

A few years later Frederick Park and Ernest Boulton (the fabulous Fanny and Stella) were arrested by the metropolitan police for “conspiring and inciting persons to commit an unnatural offence” but that’s a blog for another day …………



Posted in: LGBT+ history


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  • This was really fascinating, thanks for writing it. Are you going to continue after the month is over? It would be really good to highlight more stories.

    • Hi Jessica
      Thank you so much for your comment! It's always great to have feedback (especially when it's positive) and you've inspired me to do another one
      Kind regards