I read a fascinating bit of trivia on the back of my Pronutro box while eating breakfast this morning. The little tidbit spoke about a medical doctor called James Barry, who performed the first successful caesarian in South Africa in the early 1800s. In fact, he asked that this first caesar baby be named after him in lieu of payment – James Barry Munnik became the godfather to James Barry Munnik Hertzog, erstwhile prime minister of South Africa.
Barry served in the British army for much of his life. He died in 1865, and that when the amazing secret of Barry’s life was discovered.
Barry was a woman.
It seems the charwomen who took care of the body was the first to discover she was a woman. There were also claims that there were pregnancy scars in her body, but these were later refuted. And it’s thought that her manservant, John, may have been Barry’s close confidante, as every day he brought her towels which she used to disguise her shape.
Dr Barry was buried with ‘his’ name and rank on the gravestone.
This story amazed me. How come I’ve never heard of Dr Barry?
How come I’ve never known that the first successful caesarian operation in South Africa (something I’m seriously considering should I ever give birth) was undertaken by a woman masquerading as a man?
How come I’ve never known this captivating story about a woman who wanted so badly to be a doctor that she chose to be a man for her entire life? Granted she very definitely wanted to be a man, regardless of her profession.
What an astounding life Dr Barry must have led.