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When Dr James Barry died in 1865 after serving as a British Army physician for 46 years, the surprise was that he was a she.

That was the claim of the cleaning woman who laid out his body for burial.

With no autopsy, her word was the only proof until now. New paperwork uncovered by a South African doctor named Michael Du Preez may have solved this mystery.

Du Preez became interested in Dr. Barry for his work in South Africa. His many reforms include better food and health care not only for soldiers but even prisoners and lepers.

When Du Preez started researching Dr. Barry, instead of army records, he searched the papers of Barry's famous uncle, an artist and discovered Dr. Barry's real name was actually Margaret Ann Bulkley.

Du Preez found letters sent by both Margaret and James Barry and handwriting experts have determined they're by the same person.

Further proof was in a letter kept by the family lawyer. It was signed James Barry, but the lawyer who always wrote the sender's name on any mail he received wrote Miss Bulkley on that envelope.

Du Preez also found the story behind Margaret's disguise. When her father was jailed for debts, her mother wrote her artist brother for help. Fortunately, the artist and his friends advocated education for women. Though Margaret's uncle died unexpectedly, he left money for Margaret and his friends helped her become not a teacher as she had planned but a physician.

Since no British Medical Schools accepted women, Margaret's life long masquerade as a man began. She graduated from the Edinburgh School of Medicine and enjoyed a successful career with the British Army.

The evidence for this story is very good, but we still lack DNA so unless her body is exhumed. we may never know for sure.

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For more information…

The South African Dr. Dupreez whose interest in the story of Dr. Barry resulted in unearthing much of the new evidence in support of her gender published an article in the South African Journal of Medicine that can be read here.

An older article describing the life of Dr. James Barry is available from the Canadian Medical Association Journal here. The article has a portrait of Dr. Barry.

U.S. MEDICINE, Inc. is an independent news organization dedicated to the dissemination of objective information about medical activities and policies in the federal government. They provide a relatively detailed history of the career of Dr. James Barry which is found here.

Women of History is a web site that provides short biographies of important women through history. They provide a summary of some of the new evidence is summarized here.

The United Kingdom (UK) archives is a source of official records concerning the life and military service of Dr. James Barry.
For more information…

 
 

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