The Genderless Eighteenth-Century Prophet


The Publick Universal Friend via Wikimedia Commons

In 1776, a 24-year-old Quaker woman named Jemima Wilkinson died of fever, and came back to life as a prophet known as the Publick Universal Friend.


By Livia Gershon


Understanding gender as a spectrum is a part of life in twenty-first century America. But gender-nonconforming people have always existed. Historian Scott Larson takes a look at one example, the religious prophet of the late eighteenth century known as the Publick Universal Friend.

The story, as the Friend told it, went like this: In 1776, a 24-year-old Quaker woman named Jemima Wilkinson died of fever. On her deathbed, she received a vision of Archangels. Wilkinson “droppt the dying flesh & yielded up the Ghost. And according to the declaration of the Angels, the Spirit took full possession of the Body it now animates.”

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