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Mrs. Jean Ford
Eugenia Falleni (1875–1938) was an Italian-Australian cross-dresser. Born in Italy in 1875, Falleni migrated to New Zealand with her family when he was 2 years old. Already as a young girl, he would wear boy’s clothes, and do men’s work. As a teenager Falleni left New Zealand in the guise of a man, began using the name Eugene Falleni, and found work as a cabin boy on a ship.
After a few years at sea, by his own account, his anatomical sex was discovered after a drunken conversation with the ship's captain. They had been conversing in Italian when Falleni inadvertently stated that his grandmother referred to him as a 'piccolina' the feminine version of 'piccolino', [little one]. Despite his best efforts, Falleni failed to alleviate the captain's suspicions as to his sex. After this he was ostracised by the other crewmembers and became the victim of repeated rapes by the ship's captain. Having a woman on board a ship was traditionally viewed as an invitation to bad luck, in 1898 she was put ashore at the ship's next point of call in Newcastle, Australia: pregnant and destitute. . She gave birth to a daughter Josephine, and left her in the care of an Italian woman, in Newcastle, when she herself moved to Sydney. Here she started a new life for herself as Harry Crawford: dressing and living as a man.
In 1910 Harry Crawford began courting Annie Birkett, taking her on drives and bringing her flowers. They married in 1913 and lived together in Drummoyne, a working-class Sydney suburb. In 1917, Birkett disappeared and Crawford told neighbours ‘his missus’ had left him. In 1919 Crawford married another woman, Lizzie Allison. When questioned by police in 1920, he claimed to be Harry Leon Crawford, a Scot born in Edinburgh, who had migrated to New Zealand at 18 months old, and at 18 had left his parents’ home and worked his passage direct to New South Wales, where he worked different jobs. Crawford told police that before he married Allison he had been a single man. On further questioning and impending arrest, Crawford admitted to being a woman. He was arrested and tried for the murder of his first wife, found guilty and sentenced to death.
Although on trial for murder, Falleni was also being tried for his gender-transgressions, subsequent marriages and sexual relationships with women, this received much attention, both in the courtroom as in the press. Newspaper headlines focused predominantly on Falleni’s gender crossing and marriages, and depicted the alleged murder almost as a secondary offence. The defence cast him as a sexual invert. The prosecution linked the murder directly to his cross-dressing, arguing that the motive for murder was Birkett’s discovery of Falleni’s ‘true sex’. Falleni’s wives were constructed as sexual innocents, who had been deceived by an ‘artificial phallus’ found in a trunk under Falleni’s bed by police and exhibited in court. Yet it is likely that Falleni’s wives were aware of his sex; members of the Italian community knew Crawford was a woman, and Falleni’s daughter Josephine referred to him as ‘mother’.
Falleni’s death sentence was later commuted to life imprisonment. After serving 11 years at Long Bay Gaol, Falleni obtained early release in 1931. From then on he lived under the name Mrs Jean Ford. It is likely that dressing and living as a woman was a strict condition of his parole. He died in 1938 after being hit by a car.
It is to this day unsure whether Falleni actually murdered Birkett. Nor do we know if Falleni would have preferred to be known always as ‘he’. Falleni marked himself as a man and perhaps saw this masculine identity as a fundamental part of himself.
Aldrich, R., Wotherspoon, G. (2001), ‘Falleni, Eugenia’, Who's Who in Gay and Lesbian History: From Antiquity to the World War II, pp.157–158
‘Eugenia Falleni’, Wikipedia, retrieved 9 December 2014
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