Roberta Cowell

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Roberta Cowell
Roberta Cowell (1918–2011) was the first known British male-to-female transsexual to undergo sex reassignment surgery.[1]

Born Robert Cowell in Croydon, she was educated at Whitgift School and University College London. She was a Spitfire pilot and subsequently a prisoner of war in World War II, and a racing driver after the war.[2] She had a vaginoplasty in 1951, via a surgical method invented and performed by Dr Harold Gillies. This occurred two years before Christine Jorgensen's surgery in Denmark. Roberta Cowell's surgical transformation and friendship with the female-to-male transsexual Michael Dillon, also operated on by the plastic surgeon Sir Harold Gillies, is documented in the book The First Man-Made Man by Pagan Kennedy [3]. Roberta's life is described in her biography, Roberta Cowell's Story.[4]

In 1951, Roberta was able to have her birth certificate changed, which later became impossible (following the Corbett v Corbett decision) until the recent Gender Recognition Act. She was thus technically in a same-sex marriage until her divorce.

In 2010, Croydon Trans Group held a celebration of Roberta Cowell's life as part of LGBT History Month.[5]

Roberta Cowell died in October 2011, but this was known to few people, and was first reported two years later, in the Independent on Sunday.[6]


  1. Roberta Cowell, the First British Transsexual, Transgender Zone Media Archives.
  4. Roberta Cowell's Story by Roberta Cowell, Heinemann, 1954
  5. A celebration of Roberta Cowell. Accessed: 2015-07-31. (Archived by WebCite® at
  6. Bell, "'It's easier to change a body than to change a mind': The extraordinary life and lonely death of Roberta Cowell" Independent on Sunday 27 October 2013