Sunday, July 26, 2015
The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell
A novel based on the life of a real person, the author fills in the gaps left by the documents of the times.
Lucy Ann Lobdell grew up in New York in the 1800s. She fell in love with a scoundrel who abused her and then abandoned her before their child, Helen, was born. Lucy was obliged to move back home, to the ridicule of her mother and siblings.
Life was uncomfortable under the uncharitable scrutiny of her family (except for her loving father and a sister). Her family blamed her for her poor choice in a spouse. Lucy decided her life and her child's life would be better if they had a home of their own. But opportunities for women to earn a living outside the home were very few. She did teach school briefly and discovered she was being paid half of what the male teacher was paid.
She got work as a housekeeper and it wasn't too long before the man she worked for and her family were pressuring her to marry him. But she was completely disinterested in the proposed alliance.
A bit of a tomboy and a good shot, Lucy decided her best chance to earn a decent living was to disguise herself as a man. Well educated and a talented violinist, she planned to open a dancing and music school. So one day she cut her hair, put on her brother's clothes and left her family and her child behind to seek her fortune.
Setting up her dancing school on her savings, things went really well once she became more comfortable in her guise as a man. She made a place for herself in male society and enjoyed its freedoms greatly, within limits to protect herself from discovery. But then it all went bad.
She fell in love with one of her female students, Lydia, and Lydia's boyfriend got jealous. Warned that he and a gang of his friends was planning to waylay her, Lucy fled the town. Her next stop was the wilds of Minnesota. Her dream was to raise horses and bring Lydia and Helen to live there. But then it all went bad again.
An vile man caught Lucy bathing in the river. He proceeded to rape her despite her struggles to prevent it. She did manage to stick a knife in his leg, but he ran to the sheriff with his tale. She was arrested and jailed for impersonating a man.
Her life went from hardship to hardship but she mostly clung to her masquerade. A skilled hunter, she lived in the wild and survived off the land. Eventually she ended up back east in a poorhouse. By this time she was having some mental problems, a weakness that ran in her mother's side of the family. It was in the poorhouse that Lucy met the woman she would end up marrying, Marie. Of course, the person who performed the marriage ceremony believed he was joining together a man and a woman, not two women.
Their story does not have a happy ending. They were eventually exposed and hounded from place to place. As their hardships continued, Lucy's mental condition worsened. She finally ended up in an institution.
Reading this book was quite a journey into the mostly sad life of a woman who refused to accept the boundaries. She paid the price for it and reading about her life was troubling and depressing. Many women today are still regarded as the property of men and of lesser status than males.
But even though this is a sad tale, it made for a very good, compelling read. It really engaged me from beginning to end.