Historiography Saturday: Albert Cashier

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Soldier Albert Cashier, born Jennie Hodgers, was a minor hero of the Union army during the United States Civil War. The Irish immigrant enlisted in the 95th Illinois infantry and served for three years, participating in approximately forty altercations. (One war story tells of his capture and subsequent escape through the woods.) After his regiment was phased out of service he moved to a small town in Illinois and survived off a series of odd jobs and a military pension. Toward the end of his life he was diagnosed with dementia and taken to an insane asylum where his assigned gender finally became public knowledge.

Unlike most so-called “passing women,” Cashier did not return to employing a female gender identity after the war was over. Some sources attribute the consistency of Cashier’s male persona to the necessity of maintaining his pension or finding work to support himself. A column published in the New York Times postulates that “acting as a man was now an ingrained habit,” and links his eternal bachelorhood to his “masquerade”; Cashier himself is reported to have given conflicting explanations.

Although the question of Cashier’s gender identity and sexual orientation are unlikely to ever be settled, the assumptions that historians have made are worth examining. Given Cashier’s reaction of misery when he was forced to wear women’s clothing after he was outed at the asylum, it is probable that he may have been a trans man. (This blog employs male pronouns because that is how Cashier referred to himself.) His refusal to marry may have been caused by a fear of discovery strong enough to overcome the drive of a heterosexual or bisexual orientation, or he may have been homosexual or asexual.

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