Men During Wartime

Albert Cashier with friend in 95th Illinois Infantry

Ironically, the perilous injury that Hodgers had avoided through three years of army service with the fighting 95th Illinois Infantry caught up with her in Saunemin. In 1911 Hodgers sustained a broken leg in the course of her work and a physical examination by Nettie Chesbro Rose, a daughter of her employer, revealed her sex. Now approximately sixty-seven years of age, Jennie Hodgers, who had lived over fifty years as a man, faced public exposure. Temporarily, however, her secret remained relatively secure, as the Chesbros faithfully determined to bury the knowledge among themselves. But the injury to her leg disabled Hodgers for further labor, and within a few months a consensus emerged among those who were keeping her counsel that she could receive better long-term care in an institution. Thus Hodgers was admitted to the Soldiers and Sailors Home in Quincy, Illinois, where she remained until 1914.

Once she was at the home, knowledge of Hodgers's sex spread, though she continued to receive her pension. Even the conservator appointed to oversee her financial affairs claimed no knowledge of Hodgers's true identity until March 1913, when the state of Illinois declared Jennie Hodgers insane, presumably on the grounds that she had been "posing" as a Civil War veteran named Albert D. J. Cashier . . . . Over the course of her eighteen months at the state hospital, Hodgers's sex became more widely known-"Let me tell you, it was a shock," said one of Hodgers's former neighbors in Saunemin, Ruth Morehart, when she was interviewed in 1991 about the discovery.

During her time at the state hospital, Hodgers was also required to resume the attire of a woman. According to a nurse who worked at the hospital at the time, Hodgers, whom she described as a "dear and loveable patient," never could accustom herself to wearing a dress, having worn pants most if not all of her life. Instead, the nurse reported, with the obvious confusion of pronouns that such a situation produces, Hodgers "would pull his skirt between his legs and pin it together to make pants," a habit to which other women on her ward objected, but which hospital officials decided to permit.

One modern published account of Hodgers's life and career claims that while she lived at the Soldiers and Sailors Home, Hodgers's mental stability did in fact come under question, and that the transfer to the state asylum was justified on the grounds of her shaky mental state. Among the depositions in her pension file, one certainly finds evidence to support this claim. "She had a weak mind when I saw her at Quincy," recalled a former comrade in 1915, and a resident of the Soldiers and Sailors Home noted that Hodgers had been placed "in my care on account of her mental condition. When she was first placed with me her mental condition varied. She had lucid intervals. She was reluctant to divulge any of her previous history," and she provided only disjointed stories about her background.

One could endlessly ponder the roots of Hodgers's alleged mental imbalance: Did it begin with her uncle's (or her father's) early decision to dress her in boy's clothing and call her "Albert"? Was it a consequence of years of gruesome warfare for which her "female nature" did not suit her? Did masquerading as a man for over fifty years cause her to become insane? . . . Or, one could ask, was the state of Illinois's declaration of her mental incapacity even legitimate, given its timing in relation to the revelation that she was a woman? Was the declaration perhaps less a statement of reality than a bureaucratic response to the discovery that this woman had crossed certain boundaries of social and sexual propriety, not only living as a man but also taking up arms as a soldier and thereby apparently staking a claim to a central feature of nineteenth-century American manhood? However one answers these questions, it is important to note that . . . Jennie Hodgers's former comrades-in-arms did not condemn her at the end of her life. Indeed, without exception the deponents in her pension case spoke favorably of her, and . . . insisted on providing Hodgers with a true soldier's burial, sending her to the grave in her soldier's uniform with full military honors when she died in October 1915. (185-90)

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