Flap Copy: At a time when women did not commonly travel unescorted, carry a rifle, sit down in bars, or have romantic liaisons with other women, Lucy Lobdell boldly set forth to earn men’s wages. Lucy Lobdell did all of these things in a personal quest to work and be paid, to wear what she wanted, and love whomever she cared to. But to gain those freedoms she had to endure public scorn and wrestle with a sexual identity whose vocabulary had yet to be invented. In this riveting historical novel, William Klaber captures the life of a brave woman who saw well beyond her era.
This is the fictionalized account of Lucy’s foray into the world of men and her inward journey to a new sexual identity. It is her promised memoir as hear and recorded a century later by William Klaber, an upstream neighbor. Meticulously researched and told with compassion and respect, this is historical fiction at its best.
Review: William Kalber’s novel does justice to one of the most fascinating Americans I’d never heard of. Perhaps one of the first women to be referred to as “Lesbian,” Lucy Ann put on her pants one leg at a time and blazed a trail west from rural upstate New York, where decades later women would start to rally for the vote. Thanks to the author’s well-written dialogue and storytelling, we can imagine more easily what went through the heart and mind of this fascinating, real-life character.
I take it for granted that I can wear pants to work. Indeed, I take it for granted that I can work outside the home at all – except perhaps sometimes to grumble about it on a Monday morning. Learning about Lucy’s life, her difficult decision to fake an identity and leave a child behind, helped me appreciate the things my foremothers secured for me to enjoy. (My appreciation is usually most pronounced on Election Days, but that’s the big stuff.)
In addition to sensitive and respectful creativity to fill in some of the blanks about Lucy’s life, William Klaber also appears to have researched Joseph Lobdell’s life extensively and provides snippets of newspaper accounts that reference Joseph Lobdell the man as well as accounts of “Mrs. Slater” in all her post-discovery notoriety. I found it the most interesting to consider that Lucy Ann’s disguise might not always have been as good as she thought and wondered if many more people knew than she realized, but let it pass without comment or judgment despite the more “official” stance she encountered from the courts and the police. It is unthinkable today to incarcerate a woman for wearing pants, but I also found it telling that Lucy Ann’s wife, who didn’t adopt a masculine appearance, never seemed to have been charged with a crime or locked in an insane asylum for insisting that Lucy Ann was her “husband.” I suppose this may speak volumes for what even nineteenth century revivalists were willing to tolerate for the sake of keeping up appearances.
Despite her years of loneliness and the frequent harm she met when her secret was discovered, Lucy Ann also met a wealth of tolerant, generous and supportive people – the number goes far towards encouraging my faith humanity. Together with the massive strides forward in the century since her death in both gender equality and LGBT rights, I’m heartened by William Klaber’s preservation of this previously unsung hero(ine?).