Fascinating person: The Public Universal Friend

+17 votes
The Public Universal Friend, born as Jemima Wilkinson, was a Quaker who in 1776 suffered a severe illness and either temporarily died or was believed to have temporarily died. This person, upon recovery, declared that God had changed their soul and thereafter shunned their old name and gender pronouns, preferring to be known as Public Universal Friend, or P.U.F. for short. Adopting androgynous clothing, the Friend became a preacher and attracted a congregation of followers known as the Universal Friends. One of these followers, Sarah Richards, became a widow and she and her child lived with the Public Universal Friend and she became known as Sarah Richards.

The Public Universal Friend died in 1816, and their congregation, the Universal Friends, eventually petered out by the 1860s.
in The Tree House by Jessica Key G2G6 Pilot (177k points)

Very interesting person. My 7x great grandparents followed P.U.F.  to western New York.  I wrote about this human being  in their bios Waite Sherman Lee and Capt. Thomas Lee  Thanks for sharing this Jessica.

Hi Caryl! To be respectful of their wishes (and to conform to the Wikipedia article) the correct pronouns would be they/them or to speak about the Public Universal Friend using their name (Public Universal Friend) and nicknames(“The Friend” and “P.U.F.”).
Thanks Liz.

I find the bio very confusing to read.  They is plural where as he or she is singular.  It reads as if they are a congregation rather than a singular person.  Is there a more appropriate pronoun that would be less ambiguous?

Edit: maybe "they" is the least ambiguous: https://uwm.edu/lgbtrc/support/gender-pronouns/ It is mentioned that they has a singular use that has historic usage but is just not popular because it is most commonly used as a plural.

Hi SJ, I was going to say exactly what your edit says - singular they is the most straightforward way of putting it, and has been in usage for a very long time. Shakespeare even used it! 

In fact, “they” is the 2019 Merriam-Webster word of the year! Article one (from Time Magazine) and article two (from NPR).

ALSO, thank you, Caryl!

While "they" may work singularly, it is not commonly used this way and is confusing in the bio.  It seems that Wikipedia skirts the issue by writing without using pronouns at all and just refers to the subject by name.  Is s(he) ever used reguarly?  I've seen it used recently around the net.  Not that it is prettier but it certainly appears singular.
Actually it’s very common among transgender and non binary people.
S(he) is considered offensive to transgender people, SJ. Joelle is correct - singular they is used a lot in that community, as well as by people who are cisgender (same gender as their birth sex) trying to make their language more inclusive.

S(he) is considered offensive to transgender people, SJ.

Good to know Liz.

3 Answers

+8 votes
The History and Directory of Yates County (New York), available at archive.org, has a sketch of the Universal Friend.

There were numerous religious revivals and new religious movements in this part of New York State. This Wikipedia article https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Burned-over_district has some interesting information about it.
by George Fulton G2G6 Pilot (340k points)
+5 votes

Hi, I made a number of edits to the profile to be more respectful of their identity, as Wikitree had called them “weird” in their bio, which is inherently disgusting and disrespectful.

by Liz Marshall G2G6 Mach 8 (82.4k points)

That does seem more respectful of their wishes, but I think you missed one instance - "Upon becoming well, they stated that she had been sent ..."

Thanks for the catch, Friend! Edited accordingly!
+2 votes
I'm thinking this person should have a 'Notable' box or sticker added to their profile. They seem to meet the standard.
by Matt Melcher G2G6 Mach 1 (13.5k points)
I agree! Should we add one?

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