will focus on Publick Universal Friend, the evangelical prophet and
itinerant preacher born Jemima Wilkinson in 1752, who, following a
near-death fever in 1776, asserted they were “neither male nor female,”
and amassed a devoted following in the decades after the American
Revolution, ultimately settling in New York and founding the town of
The presentation will showcase findings from my research on the diaries, sermon notes, travel accounts, and personal correspondence between Publick Universal Friend and their followers, demonstrating the ways they made sense of and articulated their leader’s gender ambiguity.
I end by discussing how these evangelical writings revise current assumptions about early Americans’ ability to comprehend and navigate gender diversity. How we interpret the Friend also sheds light on ongoing debates between historicists and queer theorists over how to “do” the history of sexuality.
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Center for the Humanities
and the Public Sphere
College of Liberal Arts and Sciences
200 Walker Hall
P.O. Box 118030
University of Florida
Gainesville, FL 32611