This account begins: 'FEMALE FOOT BOY! / An account of the Extraordinary Life and Adventures of Catherine Wilson, an interesting young woman, about twenty years of age, daughter of respectable parents, near Perth, who assumed man's apparel at the age of fourteen, and hired herself to a drover, when she came to Edinburgh, and got into a respectable gentleman's family as a foot boy'. This broadside was printed by R. Reynolds, 489 Lawnmarket, Edinburgh.
According to this account, Catherine Wilson assumed the name of John Thomson during her time disguised as a man. The creation of an alter ego was apparently in response to losing her parents at the age of six or seven. Whilst this story was most probably considered a curiosity and provided entertaining reading at the time, for today's audience it highlights the plight of women during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. In a society where women's civil, legal and political rights were almost non-existent, Catherine Wilson was forced to live as a man to earn her living and, as a lone woman, ensure her safety.
Broadsides are single sheets of paper, printed on one side, to be read unfolded. They carried public information such as proclamations as well as ballads and news of the day. Cheaply available, they were sold on the streets by pedlars and chapmen. Broadsides offer a valuable insight into many aspects of the society they were published in, and the National Library of Scotland holds over 250,000 of them.
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Probable date published:
1820- shelfmark: L.C.1268
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