Summary: One day in 1855, Lucy Lobdell cut her hair, and put on britches. She did it to earn men’s wages, but the changes went far beyond anything she had imagined. The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell, available in June 2013, is the account of Lucy’s extraordinary foray into the world of men and her inward journey to a new sexual identity. It is her promised memoir, as heard and recorded a century later by William Klaber, an upstream neighbor. Lucy promised to write a book about her “adventures in male attire,” but that book was never found. Instead, more than a century later, author William Klaber received the gift of a satchel filled with letters and other documents concerning Lucy’s life. Recognizing the historical importance, Klaber set out to do justice to a piece of forgotten Americana—to tell the story of what happened to Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell once she changed into pants.
(Summary and image from NetGalley)
* * *
I am so glad I selected The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell to read and review. Too little has been written about women who were willing to take the risk to live out their lives in spite of what society demanded of them. Lucy Ann Lobdell was one of those women.
As mentioned above, Lucy’s story literally dropped into William Klaber‘s hands. Although Lucy had stated her intentions to write an account of her adventures posing as a man, no such record was ever found.
“I intend to write a book in which I shall give a full account of my adventures whilst I adoped male attire.”
—Lucy Lobdell writing in 1855
The result of Klaber’s continued research into Lucy Lobdell’s life and the information already gathered by the local historian is a mixture of truth and fiction compiled in an extraordinary biography/memoir. Klaber has managed to thread together the truth found in the satchel and “echoes and dreams” to flesh out the unknown portions of Lucy’s rebellion.
Lucy’s husband walked out on her and left her in dire straits. Pregnant, Lucy moved back home to her parents and siblings. Giving birth to a daughter, Helen, soon after, Lucy finds herself with no means of supporting herself and the child. Observant and clever, Lucy quickly saw that in a man’s world she could make a decent wage IF ONLY she were a man. Lucy executes a well-considered plan to leave her family and home and yes, her daughter, to assume life as a man. Casting aside her female attire, Lucy dons menswear and sets off on in search of a new life.
Not only does she find a higher wage, Lucy envisions plans for purchasing land, building a home, and bringing Helen to live with her. In order to do this and under the guise of living as man, Lucy teaches school, forms a dance school, instructs students in violin studies, and inserts herself into society. Lucy is a woman of determination, strong will and a skin thick enough to ward off the judgments soon made against her both physical and emotional. Despite the difficulties she encounters, Lucy does not return to her life as a woman, refusing to wear dresses and continuing her life dressed in men’s clothing.
Klaber tastefully draws Lucy’s character for his reader into a near palpable reality. I cheered Lucy on in her difficult times, and often questioned her logic in her portrayal as a man in a world and society so unaccepting of her efforts to make a life for herself and her child. The pages could not be turned quickly enough.
To tell you more will spoil the book for you, dear reader, and I cannot with a clear conscience do that. If you are a lover of biography and memoir and historical fiction, you should consider addingThe Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell to your library.
* * *
Meet William Klaber:
William Klaber is a part-time journalist who lives in upstate New York on a hill overlooking Basket Creek, a short ways upstream from where Lucy Lobdell lived 160 years ago. The old farmhouse that he bought with his wife Jean in 1980 (and where they raised three children) had a history with Lucy’s legend, but he didn’t know that till years later when he sat down with Jack Niflot, a long-time local historian. Jack told him Lucy’s story and showed him a leather satchel filled with recollections and articles about her, gathered over years. What Jack hadn’t found with his searching was the memoir that Lucy had promised. Saying that he no longer felt up to writing a book of his own, Jack handed the satchel to the author.
Following the gift of Jack’s research, the author made his own effort to find Lucy’s memoir. When nothing came of it, he decided that the finding would have to be by way of echoes and dreams. Mr. Klaber is a graduate of Wesleyan University and is best known for producing the public radio documentary, The RFK Tapes, and co-authoring the book Shadow Play (St. Martins, 1997). The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell is his first foray into fiction.