Stephanie Pain has an interesting article
in this week's New Scientist
about Dr. James Barry, a nineteenth-century British doctor who may have been a woman. She writes:
MYSTERY, intrigue, romance... the story of Dr Barry has them all. The tale is so compelling it's been told countless times, yet no one has ever solved the central mystery: who was Barry, the pint-sized physician with the sandy curls and squeaky voice? The doctor was both caring and quarrelsome, dainty yet dashing. He fought for better conditions for the troops, shot a man in a duel and faced a court martial, yet still made it to the top of his profession.
Barry had sprung from nowhere to study medicine at the University of Edinburgh in 1809, and might have returned to obscurity if he hadn't fallen victim to the epidemic of dysentery that swept London in the summer of 1865. He had no known relatives, so the job of preparing his body for burial fell to Sophia Bishop, the charwoman at Barry's lodgings. When the funeral was over, Bishop dropped a bombshell: the distinguished army doctor was a woman.
The debate about Barry's gender has been going on ever since 1865. Short of exhuming the body, there was no good way to settle the debate. But new evidence was recently found which indicates, pretty conclusively, that Barry was a woman. The evidence consists of letters from 1809 in which Barry's family solicitor identifies Barry as "Miss Bulkley."
However, Barry's motives still remain unclear. Did she pose as a man purely for economic reasons? Or was she a transsexual who felt that her true identity was as a man?