Highlighting Historical Romance with Eleanor Webster and the secret life of Dr. James Barry
Sir, It has been stated to me that Inspector-General Dr James Barry, who died at 14 Margaret Street on 25 July 1865, was after his death found to be female.
This was included in a letter sent by the British General Registrar to the doctor who attended Dr. James Barry at the time of death, July 25, 1865.
I learned about Dr. Barry while researching Canadian doctors for a non-fiction middle grade children’s book. Unfortunately, that manuscript still remains hopefully on my laptop entitled ‘doctors’ . However, feisty, fascinating Dr. James Barry intrigued me and this story of disguise and subterfuge inspired aspects of my newest release, A Debutante in Disguise.
Barry came to Canada quite late in life as Inspector General of Hospitals and remained in that post until illness led to retirement. Dr. Barry was mercurial in temperament, tactless and quite brilliant. Indeed, Barry succeeded in performing the first Caesarean Section in African where both mother and child survived – no mean feat in those days. Barry also espoused radical ideas like the concept that adequate sanitation and nutrition may improve health.
However, the most fascinating aspect of Barry’s story occurs after death when it was reported that Dr. Barry, who had lived his entire life as a man was, in fact, a woman.
Most now believe that Barry was either a woman or possibly inter sex. This remains up for debate and conjecture but it is generally agreed that Barry was Mary Anne Bulkley’s child. Mrs. Bulkley had one son (named John) and two daughters. Her older daughter, Margaret Bulkley, evaporated from history and, four years later, Barry emerged from the University of Edinburgh’s Medical School. Following graduation, Barry became a medical surgeon and was posted throughout the British Empire and eventually, Canada. I have not done sufficient research to form an opinion as to whether Barry was female or intersex. The burial was prompt and that may always remain a mystery. (Although – interesting factoid- if female, Barry would be Canada’s first female doctor).
However, I am convinced that Barry had a secret and lived a life of pretense in order to pursue a medical career.
This inspired me to create the protagonist in A Debutante in Disguise, Letty. She is a brilliant woman with a scientific mind and drive to be a doctor in a time when society did not believe that women had minds and certainly could not pursue ‘doctoring’.
Even when not in disguise, Letty is somewhat of an oddity. She lacks an interest in the occupations which most society women enjoyed and often felt different from others. It seems too often we adopt the sheep mentality. We like those who are the same and are apprehensive of those who seem different. I loved creating this character and loved that she was shaped, in part, by the medical pioneer with a Canadian twist.
About the Book
A society lady
…with a secret!
Determined to help people, Letty Barton has a double life—she’s a trained doctor! No one must know “Dr. Hatfield” is actually a woman. Called to an emergency, she comes face-to-face with her patient’s brother, Lord Anthony Ashcroft… They’d once shared a spark-filled flirtation—now he’s a brooding, scarred war hero. But how long will it be before he recognizes her beneath her disguise and the sparks begin to fly once more?
A Debutante in Disguise is about a man and a woman constrained by the limits of their society and yet determined to make a difference. I am a school psychologist and I use this background in the development of my characters. For example, Letty may be slightly on the autism spectrum while Tony suffers from PTSD after fighting in Waterloo. Every now and then, aspects of my own personality sneak in.
About the Author
Eleanor Webster loves high-heels and sun, which is ironic as she lives in northern Canada, the land of snowhills and unflattering footwear. Various crafting experiences, including a nasty glue-gun episode, have proven that her creative soul is best expressed through the written word.
Eleanor is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in psychology and holds an undergraduate degree in history and creative writing. She loves to use her writing to explore her fascination with the past.
As far as why I write – I love to tell stories. It started with Barbies…moved on to a grade 5 epic involving stowaways and pirates and morphed into small town reporting (more gigantic vegetables than pirates).
After a few years as reporter/photographer – I mean there are only so many gigantic cucumbers one can photograph – I switched to teaching, writing as a hobby.
Publication took a long time but I now have four romance novels through Harlequin Historicals; No Conventional Miss , Married for His Convenience, Her Convenient Husband’s Return and,A Debutante in Disguise.
I have also written two children’s book under a different name.
I am so happy to share this book with you. I invite you to connect with me through my website or on goodreads.
Connect with Eleanor