Yesterday I participated in the LGBTQ Wikipedia Editathon hosted at the National Archives. With the awful shooting in Orlando just days ago, it felt more urgent than ever to contribute to making the diversity of American history more public, more accessible, and more human. One of my favorite things about working in the cultural sector is hearing experts talk about the hidden treasures in our collections and so I was thrilled to hear Michael Hussey (education and exhibit specialist & man behind the Discovering LGBTQ History Tumblr) share some highlights from NARA’s holdings. (“Thrilled” may be the wrong word here as many of the LGBTQ stories contained in federal records tend to be more bitter than sweet.) One of the records Michael shared was this Civil War pension file for Lucy A. L. Slater, Widow of Private George Slater.
The life of Lucy Ann (later known as Joseph or “Joe”) has recently been chronicled in two books about their life (one based on a dissertation by Lobdell’s descendant, the other a novel) and has even been featured in an original play about five historical transgender figures. Lobdell is briefly mentioned in a Wikipedia article on the history of transgender people in the United States but, as of yesterday, their name was linked in red, meaning that no individual article yet existed for that person. I had discovered my mission for the day!
For the rest of the afternoon I was mentored closely by an experienced Wikipedia editor (username Arcituno) as I built a new page for Lobdell from scratch. I started with the basic facts: birth, death, marriages (one to a man and one to a woman). I rounded out Lobdell’s bio with some of the conflicting scholarship surrounding their life–starting with an 1883 report about “a case of sexual perversion” and ending with 2016 mentions in popular queer press about enduring fascination with their unusual 19th century life. My colleague (username Kristenella) added more personal details about Lobdell’s life and times, including a brief stint as a fiddler and singing school owner.
There is still much work to be done in filling out the biography of Lobdell’s life and their place in LGBTQ history but I’m proud to have played a part in kicking off the journey. I’m grateful to work in an organization that promotes diversity in our work lives and strives to share those values with the public through events like these.
If you’d like to learn more about Joseph Lobdell, check out the Wikipedia page we started and help share the details of this fascinating person’s life with the billions of people who visit Wikipedia each year. If you’d like to participate in a National Archives-hosted Wikipedia Editathon in the future, check the Innovation Hub events page or follow #ArchivesInnovHub / @USNatArchives on Twitter.