Rachel reviews The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell by William Klaber


LGBT people have existed from the beginning of humanity, although too many historical records prefer to omit this. As a result, many real stories of queer men and women have been lost. William Klaber’s novel, The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell, is a fictional take on the life of a real woman in the 1850s who wore men’s clothes, married another woman, and went by a male identity.  (It isn’t completely clear whether Lucy was a lesbian or transgender, but the novel depicts her as a woman.)

The story opens when Lucy, abandoned by her husband, leaves her young daughter in the care of her family, hoping to eventually find a job and a place for the two of them to live. Lucy knows that men have a far easier time finding work, so she cuts her hair and dresses in men’s clothes. This book follows her first twenty years as Joseph Lobdell, from the time she taught a dancing school to meeting and marrying her wife, Marie Perry. An epilogue reveals what became of Lucy, Marie, and Lucy’s daughter Helen after the year 1876.

William Klaber really respects Lucy Lobdell, and it shows in his novel. He makes Lucy so real and believable with the way he describes her thoughts and conflicting emotions, and the details of her surroundings also give her story the feel of a real memoir. The historic aspects of Lucy’s time, such as the outfits the people wore and the laws they followed, are incredibly accurate. Clearly a lot of research was done to make the story authentic.

While Lucy’s story is fascinating, many times it can be very hard to read about the ignorance she faced. The ideas of a woman wearing men’s clothes, posing as a man, and loving another woman were seen as perversions and crimes, leading to imprisonment or lifetime lockups in asylums. In the novel, Lucy does encounter misogynistic people, and their narrow-minded comments and taunts are infuriating. Many of the characters in the story who discover Lucy’s secret react badly, from shunning to outright violence and imprisonment. It is distressing and heart-breaking to read of all the atrocities Lucy is put through, knowing that back then the prejudice was thought to be justified. Her ultimate fate is also very sad; she wanted to live her life in peace, but people’s hatred and ignorance refused to allow it.

The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell is a heavy, often depressing, story, but this is also the account of a queer person’s life, a life that had for a long time been forgotten.