Publick Universal Friend

Publick Universal Friend (1752-1819)

Born Jemima Wilkinson, Publick Universal Friend came into a Quaker house in Rhode Island. After contracting and almost dying from typhoid, Publick Universal Friend eventually emerged into the world with a new identity. Publick Universal Friend claimed they had a vision from god, and that he’d told them to spread his word.

In doing this, Publick Universal Friend created their own church, the “Society of Friends,” and their own flag the congregation flew under. Seeing themselves as the “holy vessel of Jesus Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit,” Publick Universal Friend preached sexual abstinence and, in line with Quaker beliefs, a tolerance for Native Americans.

While identifying as neither male or female, Publick Universal Friend rejected their previous identity and refused to respond to their birth name. While reading the selection from their memoir, pay attention to how their identity compares to contemporary definitions of third sex, genderqueer, and non-binary identities, and how being born a woman but feeling occupied by a masculine presence (taking the form of the holy trinity) intertwines a religious and gender identity.

Excerpts from: The Memoir of Jemima Wilkinson