June 27, 2013 | by Terri Schlichenmeyer
Lucy wished she were a man
the Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell, books, gay news, Washington Blade

(Image courtesy of Greenleaf Book Group Press)

‘The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell’
By William Klaber
c.2013, Greenleaf Book Group Press
$24.95/304 pages

In your lifetime, you’ve wished upon many stars.

You’ve spotted a twinkle in the night sky and hoped for love or fulfillment of a dream. You’ve wished for good grades, better money, the return of a loved one. And sometimes, you’ve wished for the impossible.

But was the wish fulfilled, or was the star just another ball of gas?  For a woman in the 1850s, it was the latter: In “The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell” by William Klaber, Lucy futilely wished she were a man.

On the morning when she cut her hair, donned her brother’s clothes, and slipped from her parents’ house before daybreak, Lucy Slater left more than a wretched life behind.

She also left her daughter, Helen, which tore her heart. Still, the decision to flee wasn’t difficult.

Three years prior, Lucy’s husband abandoned his family, leaving them with nothing and forcing them to live with Lucy’s parents. Since she’d married against parental approval, there was only hostility in their home – a situation made worse because they knew that Lucy was most comfortable in the woods, wearing her little brother’s clothes. That was unseemly for a lady in upstate New York in 1855.

Men had it so much better. They could live without care, wearing breeches and shirts. They could hold jobs that paid a decent wage. She envied them. So Lucy Slater boarded a train headed east, and became Joseph Lobdell.

Fearing that he’d be unmasked, Joseph kept to himself until he could grab a barge to Honesdale, Pa. There, he played the violin for patrons in a downtown inn and started a dancing school for the young ladies of the growing city.

Honesdale was also where Joseph fell in love with a 17-year-old named Lydia.

But Honesdale wasn’t far enough from New York, and someone recognized Joseph for who he really was. He’d heard about opportunities in Minnesota so, running for his life, he left Pennsylvania for the Midwest, and a life he’d been denied.

Sounds like a good adventure yarn, doesn’t it?  It is – and it’s even more enjoyable, once you know that “The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell” is based on a true story.

In his after-notes, author William Klaber says that he learned about Lucy Lobdell Slater from a writer friend who wanted the story told. Knowing that the dearth of facts could hinder a biography, Klaber decided to fill in the blanks with fiction.

This book is none the lesser for it.

In giving Lucy the voice of narrator, Klaber lends a sure vulnerability that surprisingly lingers, and a wistfulness that adds a note of sadness. He also gives her a feisty single-mindedness and keen awareness that what she was doing wasn’t just scandalous but was downright criminal. Readers who remember that important point will love this book as much as I did.

Perfect for historians, feminists, and anybody who enjoys historical fiction, this novel is a definite winner. If that’s you, then look for it because “The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell” gets five stars.

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