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10 Women Who Disguised Themselves as Men to Achieve Their Dreams

Women Disguised as Men

Women around the globe have faced numerous restrictions and resistance from society in various aspects of their life. They were not allowed to participate in games, faced gender discrimination at the workplace, and not even allowed to take part in music events. However, gender inequality could not stop all women from fulfilling their dreams. Here we have listed 10 women who disguised themselves as men to achieve their dreams and have their names registered in the history books.

1. In 1959, Rena Rusty Kanokogi, disguised herself as a man to participate in a YMCA judo tournament in New York, where only men were allowed to take part. She defeated all the men she played against and won the gold medal, which was taken away from her after she confessed to her identity. 

Rena Rusty Kanokogi
Image Credit: Morbidology.com, Womenssportsfederation.org

Born in 1935 in Brooklyn, Rena has been fascinated by judo since her teenage years. But her ambition of competing in judo club events faced a setback after the owner of the club told her that judo is restricted for men only, and women are too weak for this sport.

Kanokogi had no plan to give up on her dreams, and in 1959, the Jewish-American judo enthusiast cut down her hair short and presented herself as a man to enroll in the YMCA judo tournament in New York City.

She displayed her judo skills to everyone by defeating all the men she fought with and ultimately, winning the gold medal. The organizers of the tournament were skeptical about her identity and asked her if she was a woman, to which she responded with a “yes”.

Unfortunately, Rena had to return her medal that day. Since women were banned from participating in judo in the United States, Rena went to Tokyo to practice judo with female opponents. Kanokogi died at the age of 74, after losing her battle with cancer in 2009. (source)

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2. Dorothy Lawrence, from England, disguised herself as Denis Smith to fulfill her ambition of becoming a war journalist during World War I. She cycled to Western Front, where she worked as a sapper for 10 days, before surrendering herself.

Dorothy Lawrence
(Left) Dorothy Lawrence posing as a BEF soldier in 1915. Image Credit: times-series.co.uk, Wikipedia.org

Dorothy Lawrence, a young English woman was desperate to fulfill her dream of becoming a war correspondent journalist during the first World War. Her editors, however, declined her wish to be a war investigative journalist because she was a woman.

Dorothy didn’t give up on her ambitions and decided to conceal her female identity. She did everything she could to hide her feminine features, from cutting her long, brown hair and putting fluid on her body to hide her pale skin tone, to razoring her fair pale cheeks to get a shaving rash.

The then 18-year-old woman with aspirations to become a reporter made it to the French countryside, which was the front lines of the Western Front. Disguised as a British soldier named  Denis Smith, she laid mines in the field. After 10 days of working with a false identity, she fell sick and confessed her true self to the commanding officer, as she was afraid of getting exposed.

Lawrence was forced to sign a sworn statement that she would never mention her experiences to anyone, as the military was afraid that other women might follow her path. She died in 1964 at Colney Hatch Lunatic Asylum. (source)

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3. Dorothy Lucille Tipton from Missouri disguised herself as Billy Tipton in 1940 to build a career in the music industry and later became famous as a jazz performer. Her true identity was disclosed at the age of 74 when the paramedics were trying to treat her ulcer to save her life.

Billy Tipton
Image Credit: Wikipedia.org, Periferias.org

Billy Tipton was one of the most famous jazz performers and bandleaders that ever lived. The famous musician, who was born in 1914 as a girl, grew up in Kansas City, Missouri. She was quite fond of music and wanted to join the school band, but the school policies didn’t allow girls to perform in school bands.

In 1933, she started wearing manly attire to get to work with jazz musicians because it was difficult for women to get such opportunities in the music industry at that time. Tipton adopted the male name in 1940, and soon enough people started recognizing “his” musical talent. Billy performed piano and saxophone, almost her entire life, and has countless famous songs claimed to his name.

Besides having a wonderful career, she successfully managed to keep her female identity a secret by making up false stories. After she was diagnosed with a peptic ulcer in 1989, she refused to call a doctor when the ulcer got worse. Finally, at the age of 74, her true identity was discovered, when the paramedics attempted to save Tipton’s life. (source)

4.Kathrine Switzer disguised herself as a man to participate in the Boston Marathon in 1967, but as soon as the organizers realized that there was a woman in the race, they confronted her and didn’t allow her to participate in the marathon.

In the 1960s, women were not allowed to run for marathons or races which were more than 1,500 meters, but those rules could not stop Kathrine Switzer. In1967, Kathrine did something that will be printed in the history books. She became the first woman ever to run in the Boston Marathon.

However, she had to present herself as a man to run for the race. As soon as the officials realized that a woman was running the 42 km race, they tried to stop her from participating.

“Before I could react, he grabbed my shoulder and flung me back, screaming, ‘Get the hell out of my race, and give me those numbers!’ Then he swiped down my front, trying to rip off my bib number, just as I leaped backward from him. I was so surprised and frightened that I slightly wet my pants and turned to run,” Switzer recalled.

Her courageous effort didn’t go in vain, as the ban on women was officially lifted in 1972. (source)

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5.Deborah Sampson, who disguised herself as Robert Shurtleff to join the American Revolutionary War in 1782, suffered many injuries during her battles but didn’t disclose her identity. She was discharged with honor after revealing her identity. 

Deborah Sampson
(Left) Deborah Sampson statue outside of the Sharon Public Library. Image Credit: womenshistory.org, ournewenglandlegends.com

Deborah, born in1760, was a former teacher, who hid her female identity and adopted a male name,  Robert Shurtleff, to join the Patriot forces in 1782. Sampson was the only woman in history to receive a full military pension for her heroics during the American Revolutionary War.

While working for the military, Deborah led 30 infantrymen on an expedition, dug trenches, and dealt with cannon fires. During her two years of service, she successfully managed to conceal her identity, until she was rushed to hospital in Philadelphia because of falling sick and losing consciousness during an epidemic.

After she received the honorable discharge in 1783, Sampson came back to her hometown in Massachusetts and spent a happy married life with her husband, Benjamin Gannet, and three kids.

When she died at the age of 66, her husband petitioned for financial support as a spouse of a military person, which was generally awarded to female widows. However, Congress made an exception this time and approved his petition because of Sampson’s act of heroism and courage in the war. (source)

Read more: 10 Most Badass Women Who Made Their Mark on the World History

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