Fair Bosom/Black Beard: Facial Hair, Gender Determination, and the Strange Career of Madame Clofullia, “Bearded Lady”
- Early American Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal
- University of Pennsylvania Press
- Volume 12, Number 3, Fall 2014
- pp. 548-575
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This paper examines public response to Madame Josephine Clofullia, the United States’ first famed “bearded lady,” who toured the country in the 1850s. It argues that, while most contemporaries found Clofullia’s appearance unusual, few found it transgressive. With the exception of America’s cultural and medical elite, few believed that Clofullia’s beard compromised her claims to womanhood or confounded the categories of man and woman. What explains this response? Considering the public’s reaction to Clofullia in light of scholarship on intersex bodies, I contend that Americans—especially non-elites—continued to prioritize behavior over sexual characteristics in determining the gender of persons with ambiguously-formed bodies. The paper concludes by emphasizing the plasticity of gender norms, arguing that even the most “natural” biological markers of sex have an unpredictable, historically-constructed relationship to gender.