The Public Universal Friend

Portrait of the Public Universal Friend (1821). Wikipedia.

A Wikipedia discovery (hat tip: Robert Black):

The Public Universal Friend (born Jemima Wilkinson; November 29, 1752 – July 1, 1819) was an American preacher born in Cumberland, Rhode Island, to Quaker parents. After suffering a severe illness in 1776, the Friend claimed to have died and been reanimated as a genderless evangelist named the Public Universal Friend, and afterward shunned both birth name and gendered pronouns. In androgynous clothes, the Friend preached throughout the northeastern United States, attracting many followers who became the Society of Universal Friends.

The Public Universal Friend’s theology was broadly similar to that of most Quakers. The Friend stressed free will, opposed slavery, and supported sexual abstinence. The most committed members of the Society of Universal Friends were a group of unmarried women who took leading roles in their households and community. In the 1790s, the Society acquired land in Western New York where they formed the township of Jerusalem near Penn Yan, New York. The Society of Universal Friends ceased to exist by the 1860s. Many writers have portrayed the Friend as a woman, and either a manipulative fraudster or a pioneer for women’s rights, while others have viewed the preacher as transgender or non-binary and a figure in trans history.

Read the rest of the article for more on this fascinating character. 

The Seal of the Public Universal Friend. Wikipedia.

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