Women’s History Month: Mary Jones

In honor of Women’s History Month, we wanted to highlight some of the bad-ass women we admire. First up is Mary Jones.

There isn’t a lot of information available on Mary Jones. Not surprising, given she was a transgender black woman. Well, there is some speculation as to whether she was trans or a gay cross-dresser. Given the limited information available, I believe she was a trans woman.

Assigned male at birth, and given the name Peter Sewally, Mary Jones was a resident of New York City after spending some time in New Orleans. Mary worked as a housekeeper and sex worker in a brothel. She also padded her income by pick pocketing. Eventually one of her clients reported that she stole his wallet, and upon strip search by the police it was discovered she had male genitalia. The police searched her residence and found wallets belonging to several prominent members of New York society, all of whom did not report the thefts for fear their “extracurricular activities” would be found out. It was also discovered that, in order to fool her clients, Mary wore a faux vagina made of cow hide that wrapped around her waist with a harness.

Mary Jones’ trial started on June 11, 1836. The case was sensationalized in the press, and she was ridiculed and harassed by members of the public. This, coupled with anti-abolitionist riots, led to Mary being sentenced to five years in a male-only prison. Shortly after she was released, she was tried for cross-dressing and sentenced to an additional five months. There do not appear to be any other records of her life after that point.

In fact, the only photo I could find of Mary Jones was this incredibly trans-phobic likeness printed during her grand larceny trial:


Reading about Mary Jones’ story is just further proof that we need to be more protective of the transgender community. With protections for trans people being taken away, it’s important to remember that trans people are people. They are not subhuman. They are not less. In fact, I would argue that in many ways they are more.

Who are the women you are celebrating this Women’s History Month? Let us know in the comments!


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Kat Blaque

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