In many ways, I’m glad that our society has come so far by 2022. Sure, some things were better in the past, but if we look back just a few hundred years, we can see that some parts of regular life belong in the trash.
In the 19th century, “freak shows” were a common part of American culture and one of the most popular things to do.
They were basically traveling shows that showed “odd” people, like bearded ladies and Siamese twins.
Mary Ann Bevan was one of these “odd” people who became known as the “Ugliest Woman in the World.” Her history and sad end show why we should never forget her…
People have always been interested in people of different races or with different physical abilities. However, it has always been wrong to put these people on public shows and make money off of them, no matter what time period we’re talking about.
Today, it’s just not right to use people with physical flaws as entertainment, but in the 1800s, people came to see them. From the 1840s to the 1940s, “freak shows” were at their most famous, and people didn’t think it was wrong to use people for money.
Just like everyone
So, it might not be so strange that Mary Ann Bevan’s story starts during this time in history. Mary Ann Webster was born in Plaistow, East London, United Kingdom, on December 20, 1874.
During this time, it was normal for almost every working-class family to have a lot of kids. Mary Ann Webster was one of eight children. Growing up, she was just like her seven siblings, six of whom were boys.
When her brothers got big enough, they went to work to help support the family. Mary Ann had other chances, though. In 1894, after she finished studying to be a doctor, the beautiful brunette went to work as a nurse. At this point in her life, things looked good for her future.
She was a pretty young woman with delicate features who lived in London and had a good education. This city had a strong economy and was the centre of the modern world.
In 1902, when she married Thomas Bevan, Mary Ann also found love. They were very happy together, and they had four children during their marriage. The good times didn’t last forever, though. Thomas died of a stroke after they had been together for 14 years. Mary Ann was heartbroken and had to take care of her four kids alone.
Unfortunately, she also had to think about other things. She started having health problems right after she married Thomas, and they got worse as time passed.
Mary Ann first showed signs of acromegaly when she was 32 years old. She must have been scared when the first signs showed up, but getting help for the rare condition wasn’t easy.
At that time, acromegaly was a disease that no one knew much about, and doctors didn’t know much about how to treat it. Acromegaly is a condition in which the body makes too much growth hormone, which causes the body’s tissues and bones to get bigger. It’s a terrible disease that makes a person’s hands and feet grow to be three times their normal size.
Most people get the disease after puberty, but Mary Ann Bevan got it later in life, affecting her face. As she fought the disease, her face quickly got bigger and more manly.
We know a lot more about the sickness now than we did then. For example, six out of every 100,000 people have it. If the problem is found early enough, it can also be treated. People with acromegaly, for example, have the same life expectancy as the rest of the population as long as they get the right care early on.
But Mary Ann Bevan would not be helped by these medical breakthroughs, which was sad. Instead, the disease hurt her in a big way, both financially and emotionally.
The situation wasn’t too bad when she was married to Thomas. Mary Ann got some comments, but her husband and family were there to help her feel better.
But when Thomas died, things got worse, and it became hard for Mary Ann to care for her children. Her situation made her look very different, hurting her all over. In just a few years, she went from being a beautiful young mother to a sad, unrecognizable widow.
No one wanted to hire her anymore because of how she looked. Her bosses didn’t want a deformable woman who would draw notice to work for them. Many of them were also scared of Mary Ann’s huge face.
Then, one day, Mary Ann saw an ad in the newspaper that would change her life forever. This is what the ad said:
“Looking for the ugliest woman. Nothing disgusting, hurt, or ugly. Good pay is promised, and the job will last a long time for the right person. Send a picture from recently.”
A man named Claude Bartram was the one who made the ad. He was a director for Barnum and Bailey, an American circus. Mary Ann had to answer the ad because her debts and bills were piling up.
She didn’t do it to get popular or rich; she did it to feed her children, whom she loved very much. Mary Ann was a mum first and foremost.
Bartram called out to Mary Ann after she sent in a picture of herself. Later, a lot of people saw the pictures of her and knew who she was.
Bartram, on the other hand, saw more than just a scary picture of a big woman. People didn’t notice certain things about Mary Ann’s face and attitude.
“She was not at all disgusting. She had the face of a giant, with a strong, manly jaw, prominent cheekbones, nose, and brow, but her skin was clear and she was healthy and strong. She told me she didn’t like the idea of putting herself on display because she was shy and didn’t want to be away from her kids, Bartram later told Daily Star.
“I told her that she would make £10 a week for a year, plus all the money from selling picture postcards of herself, so she could pay for her children’s education.”
Mary Ann hesitated, but in the end, she said yes.
At the start of her new job, she got a lot of attention and was so good that the Dreamland Circus in Coney Island asked her to perform there.
In 1920, she took a boat across the Atlantic, and by the time she got to New York, Mary Ann’s face was already well-known. Mary Ann was called “The Ugliest Woman on Earth,” and her picture was on the front page of almost every newspaper in New York City.
Samuel Gumpertz, a famous Missouri showman, ran the Coney Island Circus. Mary Ann would become a huge star there.
The newcomer from England was better than the other people in the circus, and Mary Ann, who was competing with bearded ladies, conjoined twins, and other people with different physical disabilities, became the main draw.
But some people thought showing people off in the circus was wrong. Even in the 19th century, people were upset by the idea of using freak show artists’ disabilities to make money. Harvey Cushing, a famous neurosurgeon, stepped in and told them to leave Mary Ann alone.
“This poor woman in Ringling Brothers’ circus, who sits “between Fat Lady and Armless Wonder” and wears “white lace hats, woolen mittens, and high-laced shoes,” has a story that is not funny at all.
In a letter to Time magazine, he said, “She used to be a healthy, pretty young woman, but now she has a disease called acromegaly.”
People still went to the circus in large numbers, and the leaders made a lot of money. Mary Ann had to go through a lot in New York, which was sad. She had to wear men’s clothes to look less pretty and less feminine. She also had to deal with comments and laughs, which must have hurt her sense of self-worth.
But a good thing about it made her think it was worth it. The Daily Star says that Mary Ann made almost $590,000 while she was in the circus. She had a hard life, but she made a lot of money. She also sold picture postcards of herself with a fake smile.
Mary Ann was able to send her four kids to private school in England because of the money. A mother’s worst fear is to have to leave her kids on another continent, but Mary Ann had no choice. Ultimately, she did everything she could to give her kids a better life.
The giving of Mary Ann showed what it means to be truly beautiful: to be ready to give up everything for the people you care about.
In 1925, she returned to Paris to participate in a show, but she lived in New York and worked at the Coney Island Dreamland Show for the rest of her life.
Mary Ann died of natural causes in 1933. She lived for 59 years, and when she died, her children carried out her last wish: to be buried in the country where she was born. She is now buried in South London at the Ladywell and Brockley Cemetery.
I don’t know how you feel, but I like Mary Ann.
Her story shows how hard she worked to take care of her family. She had to work to make a living because there were no perks like there are today. She was a very caring mum who always put her kids first and herself last.