Anne Lister was a famous English diarist from West Yorkshire who chronicled her life during the early 1800s.

Her diaries amount to over five million words, but a third of these were written in code and only discovered when deciphered in the 1930s. The code - a mixture of algebra and Ancient Greek - was used to hide the details of her lesbian relationships with the women she had met over her life. 

When the code was first deciphered by a male relative of Lister, he was advised to destroy the diaries due to the detailed and graphic description of Anne’s romantic and sexual lifestyle. He did not follow this advice, and instead chose to hide the diaries, which were then later rediscovered. The diaries also contain her thoughts on social, political and economic events of the time, in addition to details of her daily life.

In 2011, the diaries were added to the register of the UNESCO ‘Memory of the World’ Programme for both their valuable account of the early 19th century, and the comprehensive and honest account of lesbian life and reflections on her nature which have made these diaries unique. They have shaped, and continue to shape, the direction of UK Gender Studies and Women's History.

Lister is often called "the first modern lesbian" for her clear self-knowledge and openly lesbian lifestyle, and is remembered to this day. The BBC series Gentleman Jack brings her story to life.

Contact us

Access and Outreach

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+44 (0)1904 323529

Contact us

Access and Outreach

outreach@york.ac.uk
+44 (0)1904 323529