Genderless Historical Figure

The Public Universal Friend

Life Story: The Public Universal Friend - Women & the ...

The Public Universal Friend (1752-1819) was a genderless religious leader that presented androgynous or masculine and asked not to be referred to with gendered pronouns.

More info:

  • Other names: the Friend
  • Pronouns/gender: No pronouns, no gender
  • Type of media: Historical figure – religious leader


The Public Universal Friend was assigned female at birth and lived as a woman named Jemima Wilkinson until the age of 23. A contagious, deadly illness spread through the Friend’s community and the Friend survived it, and underwent a religious transformation as a result. The Friend began preaching and telling the story, saying that Jemima had died and her body was reanimated by God as a genderless spirit named the Public Universal Friend.

The Friend asked not be referred to with any gendered pronouns and followers, named the Society of Universal Friends, respected these wishes. When a lawyer insisted that the Friend’s will be signed with the birth name, the Friend refused, instead only writing an X. When asked about gender, the Friend responded, “I am that I am.” The Friend also wore clothes that were considered androgynous or masculine, which followers considered to be consistent with the Friend’s genderless spirit.

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