Jennie Hodgers/Albert Cashier's tombstone

Jennie’s Secret

Intro from Jay Allison: For Memorial Day, Transom is featuring an unusual veteran's story. "Jennie's Secret" is about a woman who posed as a man during the Civil War and went on to live most of her life as a man in the tiny town of Saunemin, Illinois. Over the years the town has been ambivalent about their most famous citizen and is struggling to figure out how to honor the memory of Jennie Hodgers/Albert Cashier.Producer Linda Paul became "obsessed" with this story and tracked down all sorts of interesting people to talk to. It's the kind of piece that was once easy to place in a public radio magazine show, but it's eighteen minutes long and it's not news. That makes it an orphan these days. It's worth pondering what we should do with stories like this--when an obsessed producer and a fascinating story converge, and the story isn't news and doesn't fit the mold.

Listen to “Jennie’s Secret”
Listen to “jennysecretfinal”

About Jennie’s Secret

Civil War soldiers
Albert Cashier with comrade from The Gilder Lehrman Collection

I don’t remember how I first encountered the story of Civil War veteran Jennie Hodgers (aka Albert Cashier), but I was smitten from the start. I was amazed that hundreds of women had posed as men during the Civil War. I couldn’t imagine how she (or they) pulled it off. And I was positively gob-smacked when I found out that Hodgers went on to spend most of her adult life – as a man – in the tiny town of Saunemin, Illinois. That’s just 12 miles down the road from Pontiac in Livingston County. And Pontiac is where my family comes from.

For me though, probably 
the most fascinating part of this project was trying to unpeel the onion to find a more nuanced portrait of Jennie Hodgers. I found a person who could be kind to children, offering them a treat whenever they came to her home. But there was also a hot-headed, disingenuous, petty and unquestionably eccentric Jennie Hodgers. She had her foibles, just like the rest of us.

The fields of Livingston County
The fields of Livingston County

We hear about her darker side in the letters that Sammuel Pepper, a fellow soldier, wrote home to his wife. I got to those letters through the footnotes of an amazing book by Lauren Cook and Deanne Blanton. It’s called, “They fought like Demons – Women Soldiers of the Civil War” and I recommend it to everybody.

When I met Frank and Velma Crawford (who are in possession of over 200 of Samuel Pepper’s letters) they read me a newly discovered letter about Cashier with even more explicit information about his/her wartime experience. So hopefully this radio story deepens the historical record about Jennie Hodgers.

Frank Crawford holding a Civil War musket
Frank Crawford holding a Civil War musket

More nuanced information about Jennie Hodgers also came courtesy of Cathy Lannon. Today Cathy is a lawyer, but back in 1969 she wrote her master’s thesis about Hodgers’ life. Lannon was from Saunemin and interviewed older people in town who still remembered Hodgers. Here’s one story Cathy Lannon told me. You’ll see that she (and a lot of people in Saunemin) refer to Cashier as “he.”

Listen to “For Example He Would”

Lannon’s great grandparents lived across the street from Albert Cashier and often invited him (her) over for meals. But that overture wasn’t always met with the gratitude that you might expect:

Listen to “He Always Thought”

A few years before the rest of the world found out about Cashier’s true gender, Cathy Lannon’s great grandmother made the discovery. She had heard that Albert was sick one day and so she asked a nurse to go over to help him out. In short order the nurse came running back and spluttered,“ Mrs. Lannon, he’s a full fledged woman!“ The nurse was so upset that she packed up and left town and Lannon’s great-grandmother in a great act of empathy, didn’t tell anyone about it, including her husband.

Listen to “There Was Always A Story”

When I first approached Jay Allison about this story, the only tape I had was of 93 year-old Nina Chesebro. Her great-uncle is the one who first hired Albert Cashier (Jennie Hodgers) as a farmhand when (s)he got to town.

I pretty much cornered Jay at a Third Coast Festival conference. He didn’t know me, but sat there anyway and listened to some tape. And then he said he bet we could make a story of it.

Albert Cashier's home. Photo courtesy of GateHouse News Service.
Albert Cashier’s home. Photo courtesy of GateHouse News Service.

I was obsessed with the history of Cashier’s life. Just such a wild story. But Jay wanted to know more about the people who objected to restoring the house. After all, it’s been moved at least nine times. One time it was almost burned down in a practice drill for the Saunemin fire department. I mean the town didn’t seem too invested in the thing. And Jay wanted to know more about that.

That tack, I think, was fruitful. Because it turns out that there’s a long history of ambivalence in town about their most famous citizen. And bringing that angle together with the current effort to re-build the house gave us a frame to tell the history part.

Gear

I have almost no experience using music in stories. Usually I stick to natural sound. But there were lots of scenes in this story that had no sound. Jay was nice enough to select the music and indeed, to edit and mix the entire story.

I used an RE-50 microphone and a Sony mini-disc MZ B-100 to record this story. When I record I like to keep everything simple. I’m busy enough trying to track what people are saying. I don’t want to worry too much about complicated equipment.

I once heard Nancy Updike talk about making her stunning documentary about military contractors working in Iraq. If I remember correctly, she also used a Sony mini-disc recorder. She squeezed her entire documentary out of that little silver box.

Post Script

I want to thank Al Arnolts, the informal “town historian” in Saunemin. He was always patient and kind in guiding me to information I needed for this story.

And finally, a word about Betty Estes: Betty is mentioned just briefly in this story. But it’s largely through her efforts that the home of Albert Cashier still exists. Betty was the Director of Tourism in Pontiac and when the old Cashier house was about to go up in flames, it was Betty who convinced her mayor to move the house to Pontiac for safekeeping.

It was also Betty who started hauling busloads of tourists from Pontiac to Saunemin to see the grave of Albert DJ Cashier. And that’s when the town of Saunemin took notice and decided, well maybe we want that old house back after all.

Newspaper story, Photo courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum
Photo courtesy of the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum

Look at the picture of Cashier in 1913 (on the right) and you can see that late in life her sartorial tastes still ran to high collars around the neck. Maybe because she didn’t want people to notice that she didn’t have much of an Adam’s apple.

Cashier/Hodgers would have been 69 in that picture. She looks so calm and unassuming. Who could imagine that she led the life she did?

Today in 2009, I have the feeling everybody wants a little piece of Jennie Hodgers. Civil war buffs, the Irish, the transgender community.. each wants to claim her.. and now, after many years – for the most part, even the town of Saunemin wants to claim her too.

Thanks to the Ruth Morehart Estate/Dwight Historical Museum for use of the photo at the top of this page.


Additional support for this work provided by
Open Studio Project
with funding from the
Corporation for Public Broadcasting

Linda Paul

About
Linda Paul

Linda Paul is an independent producer who often works with WBEZ-FM in Chicago. She was employed there for over a decade as a producer of talk programming, and for one year as acting program director. Prior to that, she worked as a picture researcher for the Midwest bureau of TIME Magazine. Her first experience interviewing people came during her tenure as a technician and “dream collector” at the Sleep and Dream Laboratory at Rush Presbyterian St. Luke’s Hospital. In addition to her work on radio projects, she and her husband rent and rehab houses in Chicago.

Comments

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  • Susan Price

    5.19.09

    Reply
    terrific show

    Linda, I thought this piece was excellent. It’s amazing that you found so many people to provide you with information and insights. Bravo. You really put it all together.

    I agree with Jay that it’s a shame this kind of piece doesn’t have "a place to go" on most public radio stations. Maybe public radio has reached their "mannerist" period — high craft, but paralyzed by their own excellence. Even on "This American Life" everyone is starting to sound exactly like Ira Glass.

    The technologies are in place… PRX… iPhone apps like Public Radio Tuner and Stitcher. Maybe PRX needs to hire a couple of "morning zoo" type DJs who play whatever they want, however they want, with commentary and enthusiasm, on an internet radio stream. I don’t really like the word "curator" because it sucks the life out of what a good deejay does. I haven’t really played with the Playlist feature on PRX… interesting possibilities there if we can get them off our desktops and onto our iPhones.

    Meanwhile, I hope Linda gets many listeners for "Jennie’s Secret."

  • Jay Allison

    5.19.09

    Reply
    from AIR email list

    Following on Susan’s notes, here’s an exchange from the AIR list today ( http://www.airmedia.org )

    Larry Josesphson wrote:

    Marketplace used to run long specials on holidays. Don’t know if they
    still do. KCRW also runs holidays specials, though Memorial Day has
    likely been spoken for. Could it be cut down to, say, 8 min for ATC
    or ME without killing it? This should ideally be done by someone
    other than the producer, someone she trusts. I once did 90-min docs
    for Pacifica so it hurts me to suggest cutting a piece that Linda
    "obsessed" over, but if a tape plays in a forest and no one hears it
    …. Or am I a hopeless broadcast-ist?

    -Larry

    ——-

    Jay Allison wrote:

    Linda and I worked on the piece together and I actually did cut a 10-
    minute version for WESUN for this weekend, and it’s fine. You just
    lose the pleasant meandering and nuance, rare qualities when time is
    money and the news is tallied every second. I miss the occasional non-
    sequitur on the air, the long mediation on something I never expected,
    the considered result of someone else’s fascination.

    -J

  • Linda Paul

    5.19.09

    Reply
    Indpendent Producer

    Hello Susan. So glad you liked it! Actually I think I could have found even more people to talk to, because there are more Civil War letters out there that mention Albert Cashier & I would have liked to search them out.

    When you’re really interested in something, sometimes you don’t know when to stop. I wonder how other producers handle that. You know going in that you’re not going to get that much time on the air. So does it make sense to gather so much tape & talk to more & more people? Even if you the producer are inclined, I fear it’s pretty daunting for an editor to be presented with all that tape.

    By the way Susan, I love your idea of a "morning zoo" DJ doing a LIVE program that plays and talks about stuff off of PRX. The live component is important,as far as I’m concerned. Hearing someone I like and trust tell me in a spontaneous, non-scripted way, why I should listen to something & what (s)he thought about it, is great radio.

    That said, I’d be thrilled if there were more national programs out there ( live or not, i’ll take it ) that presented some of the stories that aren’t making it onto NPR & TAL. I’ve been looking at some of the stuff on PRX & it’s a veritable treasure trove.

  • Jim Russell

    5.19.09

    Reply
    Comments

    I listened to and "critiqued" the piece, and Jay suggested I share my thoughts. Here are some of them.

    The piece on Jennie IS an interesting story and it is quite well-told, though I do not like the narrator’s voicing of it. In my opinion, her voice is not quirky like Ira Glass’s nor is it conventional … it is somewhere in the uncomfortable middle, not a voice I want to hear for 18:00. This should not be viewed as a politically unacceptable comment — lots of producers are fine producers but not skilled, trained or qualified as announcers. Where is it written that they have to do both in order to succeed??

    In my opinion, the story itself is too long at 18:00. It goes off on peculiar tangents and loses, then regains, then loses my interest. My mind wanders … a sure sign that the piece isn’t produced tightly enough. I am not asking for "slam bam thank you ma’am" news style crunching — I am willing to let the piece "breathe." But it just doesn’t seem focused tightly enough. In the end, I think the story is a story, but it doesn’t really have a point nor come to a conclusion. It offers the prospect of a story, but fails to "resolve" into anything memorable. To me, that’s what a driveway moment has that this piece doesn’t yet have.

    In sum, it IS an orphan as Jay suggests. But, it needn’t be. I’m glad you cut the piece and produced a 10-minute version for WESUN. I’d like to hear the 10-minute version.

  • Jay Allison

    5.19.09

    Reply
    tastes vary

    Thanks for contributing, JIm

    As I said to Jim in email, I fully understand his points, and of course tastes vary. I’m actually a fan of the occasional meander and the less conventional narrative voice, and perhaps have a higher tolerance for stories which move differently and less relentlessly forward. But I do recognize the pressure in a news magazine.

    One of the original ideas behind Transom was to explore the boundaries of what gets on public radio. Greg Whitehead’s animated topic currently underway ( http://talk.transom.org/Guests/51 ) is looking well beyond those boundaries. A piece like this, at this length, seems just over the border.

    To my ear, a news program is infinitely more interesting when you don’t always know what to expect. I like it when I hear a bit of art drop in, or something odd and unlike what surrounds it, or a story that doesn’t stick to the usual mode or clock. I know there is risk in that, but I believe the rewards are greater.

    I’m not speaking in defense of this story in particular, but when all our stories stick to a certain length and style, refuse to meander or go off course, and everything is "just so," we end up sounding like yesterday and tomorrow. We contribute to the short attention span, the limited appetite, the drone.

  • richt

    5.19.09

    Reply
    There already IS a kind of Morning Zoo format

    PRX is doing it on Sirius-XM channel 136. But it seems to be a well-kept secret. If I hadn’t heard somebody from PRX talk about it in a social after a conference, I probably never would’ve known.

    Hope this channel becomes an outlet to air much of the work that because of length or style or topic can’t find a home.

  • Linda Paul

    5.19.09

    Reply
    Independent Producer

    Hi Jim,

    Agreed. I’m not crazy about my voice for 18 minutes either. During pieces (including my own ) I often notice that my ears perk up at the actuality & my interest level drops during the narration.

    So I agree with you (especially for a long story) that the narrator’s voice needs to grab you. It’s reporting, but there’s a little bit of show business in there too, right? If no one wants to listen, what’s the point?

    At the outset Jay said we should think about WHO should narrate. I thought of Nina Chesebro ( the 93 year old.. Albert is buried on her family’s plot ) or Cathy Lannon ( her family was friends with Albert & she wrote her master’s thesis about him ) but because of health & travel & time issues, I don’t think either would have worked.

    Maybe the short version will work better for you. I’m interested to hear from people on WHERE their mind wanders… & what they would have cut, because we struggled with that.

    I didn’t catch your point though about the story not having a point or a conclusion. I think the point of the story is to talk about the wild tale that was her life & what the town’s doing with her legacy. The trajectory of her life comes to a dramatic conclusion & I actually thought that was captured in the story. But that didn’t work for you & it leaves me wondering if others agree & how we could have handled that better.

    Thanks for taking the time to listen & for your comments…

  • Susan Price

    5.19.09

    Reply
    whittling vs recasting

    Linda, the piece works for me and I like to hear a non-NPR voice. But since you asked, if I were in your shoes and someone said "cut it in half and we’ll air it," I don’t think I would whittle away at it. I think I would rewrite the narration in a tighter style and re-record it.

    I like the idea of giving the story all the space it needs and I think the stories that obsess us need that long Director’s Cut.

    But… while I’m tired of hearing the clocked-out formula… there is something to be said for imposing a constraint on yourself. I was obsessed with a story of how my great uncle was small-time gangster who was gunned down on the streets of Chicago during the early days of Prohibition. I needed to tell his complex & tragic story in under two minutes.I had to rethink my whole approach. I wound up basically reading the police homicide report. Pow. Not a masterpiece and I’m no Susan Stamborg but it has been aired on local radio more than a dozen times during the past year.
    http://www.madinpursuit.com/Family/Barrett/FlanaganMosesR.htm
    (I’m including the link here because I like it when other people do.)
    Susan

  • sarah reynolds

    5.20.09

    Reply
    pronouns

    Linda,

    Thank you for the piece. It makes me yourn to hear from Albert himself!

    How did you decide how to talk about Albert? It seems that since Albert – for all intents and purposes – was a man, you would call him "he" throughout the piece, but you chose to use Jennie and "she." How did you make this decision?

    If Albert was here now and could choose, would he be Albert or Jennie?
    Thanks!

    Sarah

  • Linda Paul

    5.20.09

    Reply

    Hi Sarah,

    I think Jennie Hodgers got accustomed to living her life as a man and, may (it’s impossible to say) even have thought of herself as a man. Given a choice, I’m pretty sure she’d prefer an "Albert" not a "Jennie" persona.

    When her comrade C.W. Ives visited her at the insane asylum he wrote: "When I went to Watertown (the asylum) I found Hodgers a frail woman of 70, broken because, on discovery, she was compelled to wear skirts."

    She wouldn’t have seemed "broken" if she hadn’t come to identify herself as a man– she would have been merely awkward. At that point in her life there was no economic or even social advantage in continuing the ruse of being a man. But she wanted to continue to dress as a man, and no doubt act like a man, because that’s how, by then, she likely conceived of herself.

    ******

    Yeah, it gets a little sticky — what pronoun to use in a piece like this. He? She? Albert? Jennie? But ultimately you have to talk about "she" and "Jennie" because it’s her masquerade that drives the story. The things she did in her life ( war service, herding cattle, voting, town lamplighter,etc ) weren’t extraordinary in & of themselves. They were made extraordinary by the fact that women weren’t supposed to be doing them. And that no one knew.

  • Joe Richman

    5.21.09

    Reply
    shorter and shorter

    I really enjoyed this story. I disagree with Jim about Linda’s delivery – I thought it was pretty much perfect. But I agree on length. I’d like to hear it at 10 min, because this felt too long.

    But, as we are seeing in this discussion, the issue of length is a telling one these days. Of course NPR and all other outlets want things shorter and shorter. But Jay asks if producers themselves ‘contribute to the short attention span, the limited appetite, the drone.’ Good question.

    I recently went back and listened to an old ATC doc I did in 2002 (also history – on the WASPs women air force pilots of WW2) and I was shocked when I realized it was 22 minutes long. In my memory it was much shorter. And I was even more shocked at how slow it was, how empty. I actually really liked it. But it didn’t sound like anything I would produce now. And that’s only 7 years ago.

    It’s the first time I’ve missed that slower pace. Things seem to have changed more than I realized. And as a producer it can be hard to tell whether you are responding to your own changing tastes, audience expectations, or even your fears about the audience’s changing expectations.

    It’s probably worth having an entire discussion on story length, pace, and what is lost and gained when you squeeze a story into tighter and tighter holes.

    And while we’re at it… maybe a discussion on doing history on the radio. It’s so hard, I think, and Linda (and Jay) did a very nice job.

  • Jay Allison

    5.21.09

    Reply
    Slow Radio

    That settles it. It’s time to start a SLOW RADIO movement.

    We’ve been complicit to long in hurrying things up, moving them along, getting on to the next thing. It’s our fault. We are producers and consumers of Fast Media. We’ve distorted time.

    I, too, get impatient, but I don’t feel good about it. Why can’t I wait until a person finishes her thought, takes a long breath, is silent for a moment.

    I was driving at night this week listening to a CBC Outfront episode http://www.cbc.ca/outfront/ on the show I host locally, Arts & Ideas http://www.wgbh.org/cainan/article?item_id=704992 . Time changed. I heard a family milling about, a dog barking, the sound of actual life.

    My wife and I watched the Maysles Grey Gardens again last night http://www.greygardens.com/ . Same thing. Slow Life. Permitting indelible impressions.

    This is how public radio often used to sound. It was willing to take its time. It even insisted on it.

    I’m not being naive. I recognize the realities, but I also think there may be a developing appetite for the anti-micro-burst of information, for things that slow the pulse, quiet the mind, and allow the ear to lead the imagination.

    SLOW RADIO

  • Susan Price

    5.21.09

    Reply
    slow and outside

    I thought slow radio was called baseball.

  • Mike Sloothaak

    5.22.09

    Reply

    Hello Ms. Paul.

    First of all: great story.

    But I’d like to prod you to reconsider some presumptions you are making. You write: "it’s her masquerade that drives the story… the things she did in her life… were made extraordinary by the fact that women weren’t supposed to be doing them. And that no one knew." I’d like to challenge your thinking on those ideas.

    It stretches credibility to belive that Cashier’s sergeant and tent-mates didn’t realize that Cashier had breasts, probably didn’t shave, etc. etc. and this may be evidence that you are missing an important point: that in 1863 the gender binary we believe to be so natural didn’t exist in the same way. I imagine every town and village had at least one or two folks raised as boys who didn’t (and would never) undergo puberty, every county a gender ambigious "hermaphrodite" birth of some sort. etc. etc. Today all these human variations are medically "corrected" as quietly as possible, but at that time they were a part of everyday life. As an alternative to seeing Cashier as living a "masquerade" or claiming "that no one knew" it might be more informative to see Cashier (as Cashier’s contempories did) as a person living in a very legitimate space between (today’s binary) genders, a space that us modern folks have in our questionable wisdom erased, delegitimatized, and finally forgotten.

    Cashier’s comrades clearly had more respect for Cashier’s own interpetation of ‘his’ gender, than we might wish to show to ‘her’ today when we reject ‘his’ views and define ‘her’ with our contemporary bio/medical criteria– then presume ours is a transhistorcial fact about gender identity, and that ‘his’ interepetation a mere masquerade.

  • Susan Price

    5.22.09

    Reply
    genre-bending

    Mike S’s message about possible transgender issues underscores why longer, thoughtful pieces are needed to give some subjects their due.

    It raises this question though: what if all your interviews don’t get deeper than ‘omigosh he was a woman"? I can imagine the townfolk were not prepared to address the bio/psychological issues. If that had been Linda’s interest, wouldn’t she have chosen a different approach? Maybe that would be Part 2 of a Slow Radio consideration of Jennie.

    As we consider a Slow Radio Movement, I wonder about the journalism model vs the arts model. Public radio produces stunning journalism, but I think there is no room for juicy [interpretive, speculative, provocative, philosophical] history pieces because, as Jay (I think) said, it isn’t "news." So maybe Part 3 of a Slow Radio evening with Jennie herself, telling her own story (as interpreted by sound artists).

    Susan

  • Linda Paul

    5.23.09

    Reply
    history for radio

    Hi Joe. Thanks so much for weighing in. So guess what happened? When I sat down to write a first draft for “Jennie’s Secret”, the story of Ota Benga jumped into my head. (For anyone who hasn’t heard it, it’s about a Pygmy man from the Belgian Congo who was brought to America & put on display at the Bronx Zoo’s monkey cage in the early 1900’s. ) It’s a TRUE story. If you haven’t heard it yet, stop reading this post & immediately go to this link instead: http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=5787947

    Right from the get-go you guys had the simple unadorned voice of the old lady who, as a child, had lived with Ota Benga. The intro set up the story & then we went right to this lady’s voice. No music, no nothing. And you got me right there. I could not move. One of the most amazing stories I’ve ever heard.

    And I figured – maybe we should start ‘Jennie’s Secret’ with Nina Chesebro’s voice. Set up the story in the intro & then get right to her. Let her old voice draw people in. So it was kind of an homage.

    ***

    The folks at Radio Diaries would be the ones who’d know how hard it is to do history on the radio. But you guys seem to always figure out a way. But I wonder – are there events in history you want to describe, but don’t, because you can’t find the right voices to tell the story?

    I was lucky here ( & you were so lucky with the Ota Benga story ) because we found people alive today w/strong connections to the events being discussed. But lots of times that’s not the case. And then I think it gets much harder.

  • Linda Paul

    5.23.09

    Reply
    passing as a man

    Hi Mike,

    I was really excited when Frank Crawford read me a more recently discovered Civil War letter from Mr. Pepper to his wife describing Albert Cashier. Because it talked about Cashier sharing a tent with Pepper & Lyman – and also running a laundering business with Pepper. That’s new information. But this grouping of bunk-mates lasted for a limited amount of time. Most of the time, it appears that Cashier had no bunk-mate.

    When the Pension Bureau was trying to figure out if Jennie Hodgers could be the same person as the Albert Cashier who had fought during the war, they gathered depositions from fellow soldiers. And several said that they couldn’t recall Albert ever having a bunk-mate ..that he pretty much stuck to himself.

    They all said they’d never seen him naked & had zero idea that Albert was a woman.

    The camp latrines were filthy, vile places & a lot of the soldiers preferred the forest as a “bathroom.” Plus, plenty of the young recruits didn’t need to shave… Albert wasn’t alone in that.

    Lauren Cook and Deanne Blanton in their outstanding book, “They Fought Like Demons- Women Soldiers in the Civil War” talk about the fact that poor nutrition, huge weight loss, stress and intense athletic training – are among the factors that can cause women to stop menstruating.

    These women soldiers were marching long miles, seeing their friends ( & sometimes husbands, fathers or lovers ) killed… sometimes short on food and sleep — and all the while trying to maintain their male identity. Stress? I think so. It’s easy to imagine that some of the women posing as men stopped menstruating.

    So you can start to see how Albert and hundreds of other women pulled it off ( though many of them were eventually detected during the war, while Albert wasn’t ).

    Here’s an excerpt from one of the depositions that you might find interesting:

    "I never did see Cashier stripped nor did I ever see any part of his body exposed by which I could determine his sex. I can’t give the name of his bunk mate. I remember now that he didn’t seem to want a bunk mate. He would not enter into any of the games or anything of that kind with the rest of the men. I know of no marks upon his person by which he could be identified. I do remember that he had had small pox at some time and when he entered the service his face was quite pitted but I don’t know whether that would show now. He was one of the smallest men in the company and had very small hands. He seemed to be able to do as much work as anyone in the Company. While I was with the regiment I don’t think he was in the hospital during that time. While I was in the service I never suspicioned that he was not a man, and I never heard any talk to that effect."

    However, adding more credibility to your argument, another fellow soldier said this:

    "He was of a very retiring disposition and did not take part in any of the games. He would sit around and watch but would not take part. We all thought that his actions were strange and we sometimes called him half and half but no ever knew the facts to my knowledge."

    We don’t know what the expression “half and half” meant in those days, though we can guess.

    And remember — this soldier is describing Albert’s actions as strange AFTER this discovery. Would he have said the same thing during the war? Maybe not.

    But the “half and half” reference at least hints at your suggestion that maybe Albert’s gender was seen on more of a continuum, rather than on a binary basis.

    Thanks for your interesting comment…

  • Rob Rosenthal

    5.24.09

    Reply
    Sign Me Up!

    Jay,

    Another stroke of genius. Please sign me up for the Slow Radio Movement. Was probably already a member in spirit and practice. Now, I’m happy to join an official group. Anyone else?

    Rob

  • Jay Allison

    5.24.09

    Reply
    Like all modern movements…

    We should start with T-shirts.

  • Jay Allison

    5.24.09

    Reply
    Shorter version

    The 10-minute version of Jennie’s Secret aired today on NPR’s Weekend Edition Sunday. You can find it here:

    http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=104452266

  • Susan Price

    5.24.09

    Reply
    t-shirt

    "I Stop for Stories"?

  • Mike Sloothaak

    5.26.09

    Reply

    Hi again Linda! Thanks for your response.

    I wasn’t at all surprised to read the quotations in the first part of your post, however. I believe them to be consistent with my outlook (however briefly and/or poorly expressed in my original post). Someone with out-of-the-ordinary genital development would also probably exhibit all the ‘privacy’ behaviors described. But more importantly: the evidence indicates that folks were left to their privacy in such matters to an extent almost unfanthomable today.

    Cemtral to my analysis of the historic context is the disinterest at the time to pursue ‘the’ answer Cashier’s ‘true’ gender. My contention is that the obsession to discover and fix the ‘true’ gender of every single human by external (biomedical) means wasn’t culturally established in the 1860s and was only beginning at the time when Cashier was being institutionalized. (Notice how it was the medical/bureaucratic establishment that first tried to ‘take control’ and overrule Cashier’s own gender expression.) I contend that ‘Odd’ gendered people were accepted to a much greater extent than today. This contention doesn’t rest on the biological status of Cashier’s crotch– whether or not she menstrated, for example– but on the extent the folks around her cared or assumed there was a truth to uncover beyond Cashier’s own gender preformance decisions. I don’t mean to contend that they cared not at all, but they cared much less than we do today and were willing to let slide a larger range of inconsistent gender behaviors/expressions.

    I contend Cashier was able to very successfully protray a ‘male’ identity largely unchallenged until the culture evolved and became much more interested in what Michel Foucault termed ‘biopower’ (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biopower). Foucault’s ideas were expanded upon by Judith Butler (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Judith_Butler).

    At the same time– and this is much harder for me to demonstrate convincingly– I would contend it is possible that Cashier sincerely believed: she was not just play-acting a masquerade to access male priviledge. For one thing: the lower ranks in a 19th century war were not the optimal means to such an ends.

    I just want to warn everyone to be very, very careful about taking 21st century gender concepts and assumptions to use as guides when exploring the motivations of historical figures.

  • beinred

    5.26.09

    Reply
    Song about Albert Cashiers

    I really enjoyed this radio story. I first heard the story of this soldier from the song "Albert’s Dresses" by Medford’s Black Record Collection. Anyone interested in listening to can find it here: http://www.myspace.com/medfordsblackrecordcollection

  • Cristan

    10.06.09

    Reply
    Pronouns

    I hate that they chose to call him "she" and "her". This was a transman and a hero. This is a male-to-female transgender. Why not do this hero the honor of respecting HIS life. Dishonoring his memory by referring to him as a woman or "play-acting". HIS gender was male even though he was born a girl. Sex and gender are two different things.

  • Ciaran Hoders

    7.14.11

    Reply

    Hi there,
    I’ve always known the story of my Dads great aunt who ‘ran away to war’, but thought it to be his fathers slightly excited dramatics at discovering something new and unique in our family tree. Then a few weeks ago I asked again, and got her name. Sure enough, being an unmarried woman Hodgers was her surname and so is mine – the name has kept through the blood-lines.
    Never have I been so inspired and saddened by a story like this, and although Jennie (I feel this is the correct way in which to address her: all transgender issues aside I think Jennie still identified as a woman, just lived as a man. This story is less about gender identity, and more about social identity in my opinion.) knew what she was doing I don’t think she ever expected to be taken over by her new, male identity as much as she did – the loss of Albert Cashier killed her in the end. Died of a broken heart.

    I just want to say a few things to the people who made this information possible and public: thank you so much, your hard work has given me detailed information about someone I desperately want to know and understand. If, since posting this you have ANY information regarding this story, and perhaps any other information you have not made public I would very much like to read it. OF course, I will keep whatever information you have private and will not share it online with others: I just want as many facts as I can get my hands on.

    Or indeed if ANYONE has links / pictures or any media (especially letters, somehow I’m fascinated with the idea of these letters) I humbly beg you to forward it on – I can provide email if nessecary.

    Thank you all for this,
    I’m sure I’ll be reading all night now that I’ve found it.
    Ciaran Hodgers

  • Robert

    9.04.11

    Reply

    Hi Linda,

    Great piece and I enjoyed every bit of it. I didn’t notice how long it was nor did I pay attention to that. I was actually hoping the story would continue just like when you finish a good book, you want more. Perhaps it’s a good thing we are not all critics so we can just listen and enjoy. The fact that the story appeared to come from your heart overshadowed whether or not you have the perfect voice and I think your voice gives the story great credibility because it’s sincere… Simple enough: to each his own. Cudos – great piece.

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