05/03/2013 02:44 pm ET Updated Jul 03, 2013

The Curious History of Women Who 'Passed' As Men In Pursuit of a Dream

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Of the many things I can't imagine myself doing -- like jumping out of an airplane -- I'd have to say that posing as a man would be pretty difficult for me. And who'd believe it? I'd make such a tiny little guy.

Before Dustin Hoffman in Tootsie, Julie Andrews in Victor Victoria and Jack Lemmon and Tony Curtis in Some Like It Hot -- throughout history and in almost every culture -- disguising one's gender has been a common plotline in folklore, literature and theater. Cross-dressing gods and goddesses frequently populated Greek, Norse and Hindu mythology; and Shakespeare's plotlines often featured women characters posing as men-- sometimes for their own safety, other times to break out of the submissive role society had forced on them.

Outside of fiction, women's attempts to "pass" as a man have often been a desperate response to professional or societal roadblocks. Some felt they needed to adopt the masquerade in order to break into male-dominated fields. Others simply wanted to get a job -- make a living, support themselves -- the way men always had. And the examples span a broad range of circumstances.

From George Eliot in the 19th century to J.K. Rowling today, women authors have often chosen non-gender-specific pen names (or blatantly male names) to ensure that their work be taken seriously. Eighteenth century Swede Brita Hagberg enlisted in the Army as "Petter" to search for her soldier husband -- who was missing -- and wound up being decorated for battlefield bravery. And in 1901, when prominent New York politician Murray Hall died, it was revealed he was really a she: Mary Anderson, a woman who for 25 years had practiced politics as a man -- playing poker with the boys, smoking cigars and swigging whiskey. It was a gutsy move, and one that reflected an era in which women weren't even allowed to vote.

And the list goes on -- from war correspondents to musicians to judo champions. These were women who took a deep breath and took a gamble, defying the boundaries of gender in order to live the lives they always wanted to live.

Here are just a few of their amazing stories.

Women Who Posed As Men