Public Universal Friend
Have you heard of the Public Universal Friend?
Well listen up, in celebration of non-binary people’s day we are going to tell you about one of history’s earliest documented accounts of a person coming out as non-binary.
This person was born in Rhode Island in 1752, assigned female at birth and given the name Jemima Wilkinson.
The person’s family were Quakers, a Christian Religious Denomination founded in the 17th century that believed in things like prison reform, teetotalism, plain dress and were anti-slavery.
But in 1776, the person fell ill with what is believed to have been Typhus.
The family kept a death watch for several days, but when the person’s fever broke, the person announced that Jemima Wilkinson had died,
and that their body had come back to life as a genderless preacher, known only as The Public Universal Friend, who had been sent by god.
The Public Universal Friend wore androgynous clothing, refused gendered pronouns altogether and only responded to the name Public Universal Friend, or The Friend for short.
The Friend preached around the Northern United States during the 18th century, standing for the abolition of slavery and attracting followers who became known as the Society of Universal Friends.
Many of these followers were unmarried women who bucked gender stereotypes and took on leading roles in their households and community.
The Public Universal Friend inspired many, but what is interesting is the ongoing impact the Friend has had on non-binary people –
and while we no longer believe non-binary identities are sent from heaven, there’s something to be said about standing by them as if they were.
Image 1: Public Universal Friend via David Hudson Wiki Commons
Image 2: Public Universal Friend via Yates County History Centre