Before the Sissy: Girl-Boys in Nineteenth-Century America | Lunchtime Talk with Travis Foster

Date / Time

  • May 2, 2023
    12:30 pm - 1:30 pm


2008-2010 Delancey Place, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 19103, United States

Lunchtime Talks at The Rosenbach are sponsored by Lenore Steiner and Perry Lerner. 


  • Admission is $15. Student Admission is $10. 50% off for Rosenbach members, free for the Delancey Society. Not a member? Learn more.
  • This is an in-person program at The Rosenbach Please check your spam folder for your email confirmation. If you have questions, please call (215) 732-1600 or email [email protected].
  • Registration opens for Delancey Society members on March 2, for members on March 9, and for the general public on March 16.



Gender nonconforming and trans children have recently found themselves the target of conservative politicians, many of whom paint their very existence as a historically recent phenomenon. This talk begs to differ, uncovering a long history of gender variance and transgender self-understandings. Specifically, it surveys the history of a nineteenth-century figure widely known as the girl-boy. By examining texts from short stories published in children’s periodicals in the 1830s to educational tracts to Willa Cather’s oft-discussed “Paul’s Case,” the talk allows us to better understand how prevailing cultural beliefs about the genders of children have changed and remained surprisingly consistent over time.

About the Speaker 

Travis Foster is Associate Professor of English and Academic Director Gender and Women’s studies at Villanova University. He is the author of Genre and White Supremacy in the Postemancipation United States (Oxford University Press, 2019) and the editor of The Cambridge Companion to American Literature and the Body (2022). He has published articles on, among other topics, Edith Wharton, Sarah Orne Jewett, F. O. Matthiessen, effeminate men, and campus novels. He lives in West Philly. 

About Lunchtime Talks at The Rosenbach 

Enjoy Lunchtime Talks at midday with leading scholars, artists, and authors talking about their work. Tea sandwiches and light refreshments included. 


Image caption: [s.n.] Tommy Russell, as “Little Lord Fauntleroy.” . Photomechanical Print, Photogravure, 1 clipping from a newspaper : Black/White , [ca. 1888]. Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts, University of Pennsylvania: Furness, P/Ru575.3 M, Medium Box, JSTOR,