With funding from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage through the Heritage Philadelphia Program, the Library Company began a collaborative project with artist Jennifer Levonian in 2010. The culmination of that collaborative process was the creation of a animated video. Jennifer Levonian’s Rebellious Bird was inspired by her interactions with the library’s Civil War collection and explores the topic of women who disguised themselves as men and fought as soldiers in the Civil War.
Complementing Rebellious Bird is a small exhibition expanding this topic beyond the Civil War. Women not only fought as men in the Civil War, they also concealed their gender to fight alongside men during the American Revolution and in other military conflicts. Women went to sea as male sailors, played theatrical roles written for male characters, and in one instance an African-American woman escaped from slavery disguised as a white man. The mannish woman, as well as the feminine man, was satirized in caricatures throughout the 19th century. Using material from both the book and graphic collections of the Library Company, the exhibition explores cross dressing and gender identity during the 18th and 19th centuries.