10 women who 'became men' to get ahead

by Siân Ranscombe - 27/01/15, 12:15 AM
George Eliot, who was born Mary Ann Evans, and DJ Tatiana Alvarez, who spent a year as a man called Matt Muset.

George Eliot, who was born Mary Ann Evans, and DJ Tatiana Alvarez, who spent a year as a man called Matt Muset.Photo: Getty/Joyce Kim

Angry at being overlooked as a female DJ, Tatiana Alvarez spent a year posing as a man - and soon found herself fully booked. Since time began, women have dressed as men to get ahead. For some it has been a desire to see action on the front line and for others it has been to further their career at a time in which women were at even more of a disadvantage in the workplace than today.

Matt Muset, born Tatiana Alvarez

California-born Tatiana Alvarez had spent years trying to build a career as a DJ. She found herself repeatedly being booked for gigs on the strength of her music, before being rejected by venue owners upon learning she was a woman. Furious at the double standards in the industry, Alvarez decided to reinvent herself - as a male DJ named Matt Muset, aka Musikillz. Through email, she set up another alter ego - that of agent Maya Feder - and started touting Musikillz around to clubs in Los Angeles. Alvarez (as Musikillz) was immediately successful. She will serve as music supervisor in the movie of her life, the rights to which were purchased by Warner Brothers last year.


Denis Smith, born Dorothy Lawrence

In 1914, Dorothy Lawrence was an ambitious cub reporter with aspirations of becoming a war correspondent. Living in Paris when war was declared, she contacted numerous British newspapers offering her services but was turned down by them all, on account of her being a woman. The following year, and aged just 20, she flattened her figure using a corset, cut off her hair and used a razor blade on her face in the hope of giving herself razor burn. She learned how to move like a man and joined the ranks of the Royal Engineers under the name Denis Smith. She served for 10 days on the Western Front before her real identity was discovered. Lawrence's thinking had been that by going 'undercover' as a Tommy she would secure the access the editors doubted she could get as a female journalist. In 1919, though heavily censored by the War Office, Lawrence published Sapper Dorothy Lawrence: The Only English Woman Soldier, an account of her experience in France.

James Barry, born Margaret Ann Bulkley

The story of Dr James Barry was only finally told in 2008. Barry was a pioneering surgeon for the British Army who died in 1865 after falling victim to dysentery. Shortly after his death, a maid tasked with preparing his body for burial claimed Barry was a woman. Army officials, appalled they could have been so badly fooled (and presumably particularly outraged they had been duped by a woman), locked away his medical records. In 2008, letters were found confirming Barry had in fact been born Margaret Ann Buckley, niece of James Barry, a professor of painting at the Royal Academy. Barry, living as a man, became the first biological woman to graduate with a medical degree, went on to have the highest recovery rate of patients treated during the Crimean War, and reportedly became the first surgeon in the then British Empire to successfully perform a caesarean section.

Christian Davies, born Christian 'Kit' Cavanagh

Christian 'Kit' Cavanagh (born 1667 in Dublin) had no desire to join the Army as a youngster, but disguised herself as a man to do so after her husband disappeared, apparently to Holland with the British Army. After 13 years of searching, and having fought in battles, been wounded, captured, discharged and then having re-enlisted, she finally found Richard. Sadly, he was in a new relationship with another woman. Davies' secret was revealed after she suffered a fractured skull in combat, and she was discharged once again. She died in 1739 and was buried with full military honours. Her story was recently told in the BBC4 documentary Harlots, Housewives and Heroines: A 17th Century History for Girls.

Rena Kanokogi, born Rena Glickman

Rena 'Rusty' Kanokogi, who died in 2009, was a pioneering judo expert from New York. In 1959, Kanokogi (then Glickman) entered the YMCA championships in Utica as a man. Women were not explicitly barred from the competition but she nonetheless cut off her hair and taped down her chest ahead of the championships. She won her bout but upon collecting her medal was asked if she was a woman. She confessed and was stripped of it. In an interview with the New York Times the year she died, she said: "Had I said no, I don't think women's judo would have been in the Olympics. It instilled a feeling in me that no woman should have to go through this again." Judo became an Olympic sport for men in 1964. Kanokogi threatened the International Olympic Committee with legal action and the event was eventually introduced for women at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul - with Kanokogi as US team coach.

Murray Hall, born Mary Anderson

Murray Hall, born in Scotland around 1840, was a New York City politician, known for his slight appearance and for helping win votes for Tammany Hall, the political organisation that played a big role in New York politics between the 18th and 20th centuries. His birth name was Mary Anderson - it is believed he arrived in America wearing his dead brother's clothing after fleeing Govan. His secret stuck until after his death in 1901, meaning he would have been able to vote at a time women were unable. In the days after his death, the New York Times ran an article saying: "In a limited circle, she even had a reputation as a 'man about town', a bon vivant, and all-around 'good fellow.'"

George Eliot, born Mary Ann Evans

Middlemarch author George Eliot was perhaps one of the first writers to use a male pen name in an effort to have her books taken seriously. Born Mary Ann Evans in 1819, she lived during a time at which women authors were published, but usually in the genre of romance. She was encouraged to write by the philosopher George Lewes, with whom she had a rather scandalous relationship (Lewes was married when they met), and her nom de plume was an homage to him.

The Bronte sisters

Much like George Eliot, the Bronte sisters passed themselves off as men by name only. In the early years of their career, Charlotte, Emily and Anne went by the names of Currer, Ellis and Acton Bell. Their first work under these names, simply entitled Poems, was published in 1846. The following year, Charlotte had Jane Eyre published under the name Currer Bell, while Emily continued as Ellis Bell for the publication of Wuthering Heights.

The Telegraph

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