Boston: Published by M. Aurelius [Mead and Beal, Printers], 1844. First Edition. 12mo. 36 pp. (frontispiece in facsimile). Title-page with old repairs on verso, many pages frayed around edges, paper stock weak, final page with Japanese tissue obscuring some of the words on p. 35 (see images). Bound in 20th century quarter calf over marbled boards. With faults, and priced accordingly. Item #3430
RARE FIRST EDITION, of which no more than 6 copies have appeared on the market in the last century (see below).
Important and highly curious Antebellum imprint -- of particular currency to modern academics on account of its treatment of gender roles vs. gender identity. Representations of women cross-dressing as sailors are of great interest to scholars of 19th-century American literature and history. Cheap pamphlets such as this ours are now very difficult to procure as they were literally read to pieces.
Emma (nee Cole) Hanson was born in the 1780s; she writes that the act of putting on male clothing was an enormous hurdle for her to overcome. "The wearing of male clothing seems to have had an almost magical quality, which, to all intents and purposes, was an operation that changed one's gender." (Sobel). "Emma Cole Hanson uses cross-dressing and performance as a sailor to obtain access to freedom, mobility, and financial security that would otherwise be denied to women from the working class." (Weddell).
Fact or fiction, Cole states that she was orphaned at the age of five; as a servant girl she rebuffed the advances of a young man who in retaliation destroyed her reputation with false accusations. Destitute in Boston she found herself working in a brothel; there she wounded (but did not actually kill) a man who was molesting her; she fled in male attire, and "so well acquired the air and tone of the sailor that the character seemed familiar to me." She was at sea for three and a half years, during which time she was imprisoned by pirates, and jailed again in England -- always disguised as a man. Returning to Boston, at the dock she recued a child who had fallen in the water; the wealthy parents expressed their immense gratitude to the "young man" by taking him into their home. After some time, "I thought best now to COME OUT (emphasis ours) in my own true colors, and discover who and what I was. But this was a delicate business."
After coming out to her benefactors as a woman, the family warmly accept her. "When I had finished, instead of upbraiding me, they showed every mark of tenderness and affection for me. They pledged themselves that I should not want as long as providence was bountiful to them…I was asked if I should not like to change my dress for that of a female. I replied I should be greatly rejoiced to do so, especially as I had now found protecting friends." (pp. 28-29).
"The Life and Sufferings of Emma Cole" is important because the text transforms the "fallen woman" into a self-reliant heroine who defends her honor -- and her gender -- and do so bravely. However, onshore Cole found herself unskilled at needle-work and unable to labor with men; and having had no education, she was not even qualified to go to school. Although she was no longer a fallen woman, she was still a woman, and an impoverished one. That she had almost no financial opportunities is a direct critique of American society.
CENSUS OF COPIES ON THE MARKET IN THE LAST CENTURY:
1st (or presumed 1st) edition: MS Rare Books Catalogue 25 (1980). Eberstadt Catalogue 160 (1963; the same copy appeared in Catalogue 164). Midland Notes 56 (1953); Goodspeed Catalogue 192 (1930; the same copy appeared in Catalogue 203). Anderson Galleries, 1928. Finally, a previously unknown copy (complete with front wrapper) was offered at Getman's Virtual on 4/9/2021 and sold within hours.
2nd edition: Christie's New York, 2000. Longs Catalogue 31 (1955).
3rd edition: Swann Galleries, 1976.
Indeterminate: Swann Galleries, 1983
Sabin 14285 (fifth edition only). Wright 560.
Lisa Weddell, "Troubling the Water: Dismantling the Ideology of Separate Spheres," 2019 PhD Thesis, Duquesne University, especially Chapter Two: "The Female Sailer: The Perfect Woman." Mechal Sobel, Teach Me Dreams: The Search for Self in the Revolutionary Era (Princeton University Press, 2002), pp. 198-199.