Astronaut, Surgeon, Revelation


Sally Ride
May 26, 1951 – July 23, 2012

Doctor James Barry
c. 1789 or 1799 – July 26, 1865



Sally Ride, 1984, from NASA bio

As the first U. S. woman in space, Sally Ride broke much more than a glass ceiling and became a symbol of the strength and courage of women and a role model for young girls.  After she left the space program she continued to encourage interest in science, math and space for young people.  Though she had become a public figure, she was a private person who valued her personal life as her own and refused endorsements.  She chose to reveal in her obituary that she had shared almost thirty years with her partner, Tam O’Shaughnessy.



Portrait of Doctor James Barry, circa 1813-1816, via Wikapedia

I learned about Dr. James Barry through a recent post from Loren Rhoad’s blog, Cemetery Travel:  Adventures in Graveyards Around the World.  She had done a post on Kensal Green Cemetery  in London where he is buried.  Check out her blog if you like old cemeteries.

A few days later I stumbled upon another blog, The Silver Voice, and found an excellent post from last year about Dr. Barry, Margaret Ann Bulkley:  The extraordinary Doctor James Barry.  Read that post if you want more of the fascinating details about this amazing life.

Briefly, Dr. James Barry was a renowned  British surgeon who joined the military and practiced in England and throughout the British Empire.  When he died he instructed that there was to be no post-mortem.  Yet when his body was to be prepared for burial, it was discovered  that Dr. Barry was a woman, MARGARET ANN BULKLEY.  The discovery was not made public until after the burial.  The British military was stunned.  In those days  women were not allowed to study to become physicians.  So in order to get into medical school she disguised herself as a man.  Circumstances forced her to continue this charade until her death at around age seventy.


Two extraordinary women chose to keep their sexuality private until their death in order to maintain the career each had chosen.   Bulkley started out with a secret in order to achieve her goal of becoming a physician when that privilege was denied to women.  Ride chose to not to go public with  her private relationship, not in order to attain her dreams, but apparently to avoid controversy which might diminish achievements or the space programs.

Today there are no barriers to women becoming physicians in any field of medicine they choose.  Perhaps in the future sexual choices will not matter either.

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37 thoughts on “Astronaut, Surgeon, Revelation

  1. It makes me sad to think that there ever existed a time in which we prevented people from their purpose because of the color of their skin, their lineage, and their gender. In a perfect world, both of these women, heroes, should never have had to hide. While I am grateful that today we live in a world where equality is taken seriously, it seems silly to me that it has to be “taken seriously.” We are people, the same one and all no matter our choices, preferences, and originations. I am even more grateful that this world is not all there is. Such great things to come . . .

    Have a wonderful weekend, Jonel,

    ~ Cara


    • Yes, today many take these equalities for granted yet prejudices still exist. I am encouraged by those like you – many young people – who accept people as individuals without labels. The country seems so divided today in many ways. Thank you for voicing your good thoughts.

      You have a good weekend too. Sweet dreams!


    • Absolutely, women still face many obstacles of all kinds! It is somewhat better and women have a chance at least. And my independence is still important to me even at this age! Thanks for the BRAVO!


  2. AMAZING INFORMATION! I was totally unaware of both stories, thank you so much for sharing. I agree with Virginia that many obstacles remain and it take courage and the continuous sharing of information to expose these great heroines and heros. Thank you so much for sharing these incredible lives. My partner and I have had to sacrifice much of personal lives in order to maintain our relationship of 37 years and during our professional careers we masqueraded as something we were not. It is a shame that good, loyal, honest people have to hide part of themselves in order to accomplish the goals in their lives. I often wonder how great people could become if they were able to live with full integrity. Thank you again for these inspiring (and somewhat sad) stories.


    • I am so glad that you appreciated these special stories. Comments have been positive so far. Tolerance and acceptance are more common but prejudice and ignorance still exists in some. I salute your relationship of 37 years as you have been fortunate to have found something lasting! Thank you for commenting and sharing!


  3. Great post! We’ve come so far, but still have a long way to go in regard to equal rights. (I think women still only get paid about 80% of what men make doing the same job.) It’s sad that such an amazing woman like Sally Ride could not openly celebrate her lifelong relationship with her partner. I can imagine many speaking engagements where a heterosexual person would be allowed to acknowledge and thank their significant other, yet she was denied this simple pleasure because she was born a homosexual. But thankfully I’ve seen so much progress toward equal rights in my lifetime, and I know the world will continue to evolve in it’s intolerant views.

    I can’t believe I’ve never heard the story of Dr. James Barry. That’s fascinating!


    • We have come a long way but there are still subtle barriers to women. And gays are still fighting for rights. I have faith in the future for more progress in both areas. The attitude of most young people seems to be of more tolerance.

      I had not heard of Dr. James Barry either until I found those posts on the blogs. It reminded me of Barbara Straisand in “Yentil.” (At least i think it was Yentil – where she pretended to be a boy.)

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts.


  4. Thank you for referring to my blog and the amazing story of Dr James Barry, a truly remarkable Irish woman. Margaret Bulkley was very well connected (her uncle being a renowned artist with influential connections) and was able to access education etc. Life chances have always been linked to status and influence. I suspect that still holds true today. The full story of Margaret Ann Buulkley is at and at


    • It was a pleasure to mention your blog and post on Margaret Bulkley. I intended for readers to go to your post for the full story and details as you had covered her so well. You have enlightened many, like myself, who did know know of her. Thanks for commenting and providing both links as I failed to mention both! My omission!


  5. Thank you – I didn’t know about Dr. Barry, either. But to live life with such a secret – Sally Ride’s, too – extracts such a toll from one’s energy. It’s terrible when people feel forced to keep secrets that can steal away half their life energy. How much more might either of them have accomplished if they hadn’t been spending time keeping secrets? Not to detract form them – rather to point out the cost.


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