b. c. 1789-1799
"Before Britain’s Inspector General of Military Hospitals, Dr. James Barry, died, he left strict instructions that no one was to change him out of the clothes in which he died. But the charwoman sent to prepare his corpse had no room for such nonsense. And so when she pulled his nightshirt up to wash his boody, she screamed, “The devil! It’s a woman!" Dr Barry, while alive, was known as a fierce and demanding doctor, and in the process became one of the most highly respected and feared surgeons in Victorian England, feared for his combative temper and fierce determination. He famously got in a bitter argument with Florence Nightingale, who called him a “brute” and “the most hardened creature I ever met throughout the Army.” As Inspector General, he fought for better food, hygiene, sanitation and proper medical care for soldiers and for prisoners. His reforms undoubtedly saved thousands of lives. He became the top-ranking doctor in the British Army, where despite his argumentative personality, was also reputed to have an very good bedside manner. Many who knew him also remarked on his high, soft voice and his diminutive stature — he stood barely five feet tall on special stacked-soled shoes. His black manservant, who joined Barry’s employment in South Africa and would remain with him for the next fifty years, was entrusted with the task of laying out six small towels every morning that Barry used to conceal his curves and broaden his shoulders.
Despite the charwoman’s discovery upon his death, his secret remained tightly held and he was buried under the only name he had gone by since his early twenties. It wouldn’t be until the 1950s when his British Army records were unsealed that it was revealed that Barry had been born in Ireland as Margaret Buckley to a forward thinking family who were staunch supporters of women’s rights. Margaret became James Barry shortly after beginning training to become a doctor. But since women were not admitted to universities at the time, the only way Barry could continue his education and career was to do so as a man. And in every respect, he remained a man in what was very much a man’s world until the day he died.
Holmes, Rachel : The Secret Life of Dr James Barry: Victorian England's Most Eminent Surgeon