II-60087.1 | Mr. Monk and friends as "Our Nurse Nannie," Montreal, QC, 1881

 
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Photograph
Mr. Monk and friends as "Our Nurse Nannie," Montreal, QC, 1881
Notman & Sandham
1881, 19th century
Silver salts on paper mounted on paper - Albumen process
14 x 10 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
II-60087.1
© McCord Museum
Description
Keywords:  male (26812) , Photograph (77678) , portrait (53878)
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Keys to History

This group of friends entitled their portrayal "Our Nurse Nannie." Close inspection reveals "Nannie," seated in the centre, to be a man. In spite of the taboos and written rules about men not dressing as women at fancy dress balls and carnivals, some actually managed to get away with it.

For Mrs. D. Lorn Macdougall's ball in Montreal in 1881, four friends dressed as young boys and made a great performance of looking after their ageing nurse. Most of the time, when such cross dressing did occur, it was for a skating carnival, not a ball, where a bit more decorum was required. People must have enjoyed this group's antics, however, as they were mentioned in two newspaper reports of the ball.

Such portrayals were generally based on one of three female stereotypes: the buxom, feisty, elderly woman like "Nurse Nannie," the innocent young girl and, most popular of all, the emancipated woman, perhaps called "Delegate for the Society of Women's Rights."

References
Montreal Star, 26 February 1881.

Montreal Gazette, 26 February 1881.

  • What

    This very rare photograph shows a man dressed as a woman for a fancy dress ball. Written regulations often prohibited such portrayals, in an attempt to maintain the decorum so important in Victorian Canadian society.

  • Where

    This ball was held at assembly rooms in the Queen's Hall, at the corner of St. Catherine Street and University Avenue in Montreal. The photograph was taken in the Notman studio.

  • When

    Mrs. D. Lorn Macdougall's fancy dress ball was held on February 25, 1881.

  • Who

    Mr. J. S. Burrows was "Our Nurse Nannie" and Charles D. Monk, J. O. Wilgress, H. F. Wilgress and James Stewart were the four boys.