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 - Maartje Kramer -

Anne Lister (1791 - 1840) was a remarkable woman known for openly discussing her love for other women. She came from a family with a bit of land and was often called "Gentleman Jack" because of her strong, masculine appearance and her unconventional fashion choices. Despite the norms of her time, Lister didn't hide who she was, which made her stand out. 


Growing up, Lister went to school and loved literature. She even fell in love with a girl named Eliza Raine while she was there. Lister's early years were spent in Yorkshire, where she received an education that fostered her love for classical literature. At a young age, she developed a deep interest in learning, which she pursued both at school and through private lessons. It was during her schooling years that Lister formed her first romantic relationship, falling in love with Eliza Raine. As she got older, she had other girlfriends too. 


Anne inherited a big house called Shibden Hall in 1815, and she used her money to make it beautiful. She also loved to travel, which was unusual for women back then. She explored mountains and went on exciting adventures across Europe. She was a very skilled mountaineer and lived in different parts of Europe where she would write and climb. She would go back and forth between living in Shibden Hall and various locations in Europe between 1815 and 1831. She lived a full life that was not the norm for a noble woman like herself. 


Lister's appearance was often described as "masculine", which led to discomfort for some of her partners, like Mariana Lawton (née Belcombe). Lister always wore black clothes, like men did back then. She also did things that most women didn't or couldn't do, like owning a

The Holy Trinity Church in York, United Kingdom, where Anne Lister and Ann Walker took sacraments on the 30th of March 1834. Photo: Jasmijn Groot.

colliery, showing she didn't care about what people thought women should do. The two would share a relationship for over two decades; during this period, Mariana had married. 


The most important person in Lister's life was Ann Walker (1803 - 1845). They became acquainted in 1830, and the relationship took years to build. They loved each other deeply and even had a ceremony that they considered a marriage, even though it wasn't official. The church has since 2018 a plaque that acknowledged the celebrated marital commitment, without legal recognition of Anne Lister and Ann Walker. That they took sacrament together to seal their union during Easter, 1834. 


Together they lived a happy life. Walker joined the adventurous lifestyle of Lister. They traveled across Europe. On their last trip, they went through Russia, which during that time had issues with the Tsar regime. They were escorted by a military man, which made them stand out. Lister wrote in her journal, "The people coming in to look at us as if we were some strange animals such as they had not seen the like before." 


The plaque at The Holy Tirnity Church in York, United Kingdom, that mentions the union between Anne Lister and Ann Walker taking place there. Photo: Jasmijn Groot.

Lister's life was cut short when she died at 49 while traveling with Ann Walker. Her legacy endured through her extensive diaries, comprising over five million words. Written in a complex code, Lister's diaries provide a candid and intimate account of her daily life, including her romantic relationships, business endeavors, and travels. 


Decades after her death, Lister's diaries were deciphered, shedding light on her remarkable life and experiences. In 2011, they were recognized by UNESCO for their cultural significance, particularly in shaping gender studies and women's history. Lister's commitment to living authentically continues to inspire, serving as a testament to her courage and resilience in the face of societal constraints. 


Image: Joshua Horner, Portrait of Anne Lister (ca 1830). Calderdale Metropolitan Borough Council, Calderdale, United Kingdom.


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