Mary Ann Bevan’s tragic and intriguing story

I’m pleased with the progress our society has made in 2022 in many respects. While there are undoubtedly some things that are better off in the past, there are other elements of modern life that belong in the trash a few centuries ago.

“Freak shows” were among the most well-liked attractions in the 19th century and were seen to be a regular part of American culture.

They were essentially travelling circuses that included “odd” characters, like Siamese twins and bearded females.

Mary Ann Bevan was one such “odd” individual who gained notoriety as the “Ugliest Woman in the World”; her extraordinary life story and untimely death demonstrate why we should never forget her.

Mary Ann Bevan was one such “odd” individual who gained notoriety as the “Ugliest Woman in the World”; her extraordinary life story and untimely death demonstrate why we should never forget her.

persons have always been captivated by persons of other races or physical ability; but, regardless of the era, it is unethical to put these people on display in public and profit from them.

In the 19th century, people went to view disfigured people, but today it is just unthinkable to treat them as objects of entertainment. “Freak shows” reached the height of their appeal between the 1840s and the 1940s, a time when profit-driven exploitation was accepted as ethically acceptable.

Plaster casts of acromegalic patient / Jon Brenneis/Getty Images

So maybe it’s not so unusual that Mary Ann Bevan’s story starts at this very point in history. On December 20, 1874, Mary Ann Webster was born in Plaistow, East London, United Kingdom.

It was not unusual for practically every working-class household to have veritable mobs of children during this period. Being the youngest of eight children, Mary Ann Webster grew up exactly like her siblings—six of whom were males.

Westminster Hospital sisters in uniform / Getty Images

Her brothers were sent off to work as they grew older in order to support the family. Mary Ann, though, had other options. The stunning brunette graduated from medical school and started working as a nurse in 1894. Right now in her life, everything seemed to be going well.

She was a smartly dressed, elegantly built young lady who resided in London and had fine features. This metropolis had grown to be the hub of the contemporary world and was economically affluent.

Getty Images

When Mary Ann married Thomas Bevan in 1902, she too experienced love. Together, the couple enjoyed great happiness and had four children during their marriage. Unfortunately, the good days were short-lived. Following 14 years of dating, Thomas suffered a stroke and died. In addition to being abandoned by herself with her four children, Mary Ann was traumatised.

Regretfully, she was also troubled by other issues. She had begun to have health problems shortly after she married Thomas, and those problems only got worse over time.

Mary Ann began exhibiting acromegaly symptoms around the age of thirty-two. When the initial symptoms appeared, she must have been horrified, and unhappily, getting treatment for the uncommon illness wasn’t simple.

Acromegaly was not yet recognised as a condition, and physicians knew very little about its management. A condition known as acromegaly occurs when the body overproduces growth hormone, causing bones and body tissue to swell. It’s a terrible illness that frequently causes the infected person’s hands and feet to grow three times larger than normal.

Coney Island, Dreamland Circus Show.

Usually manifesting after adolescence, Mary Ann Bevan’s condition didn’t manifest until much later in life and had an impact on her face. As she struggled with the illness, her face quickly became bigger.

We now have a lot more knowledge regarding the illness. For instance, we are aware that up to six out of every 100,000 persons are impacted. If the disease is discovered in time, treatment options also exist. For instance, life expectancy for those diagnosed with acromegaly today is comparable to that of the general population, given they receive the right care from an early age.

However, Mary Ann Bevan would regrettably not profit from such medical advancements. Rather, the illness had a severe negative psychological and economical impact on her.

Coney Island freak show. An albino photographed with fat lady.

Her condition wasn’t too bad when she was married to Thomas. Mary Ann received some criticism, but her family encouraged her and she was able to find solace in her spouse.

But once Thomas passed away, things got worse, and Mary Ann found it harder to support her kids. She had severe bodily changes, and the illness affected every part of her body. In a matter of years, she transformed from a beautiful young mother to a distraught, unrecognizably widowed woman.

No one wanted to hire her when she changed in appearance. Many of her employers were afraid of Mary Ann’s large face and didn’t want to hire a deformed woman who would draw attention to herself.

Mary Ann’s entire life would then alter when she came upon an advertisement in the newspaper one day. The advertisement said as follows:

The ugliest woman is wanted. Nothing hideous, mutilated, or deformed. Long-term commitment and good compensation are assured for the chosen candidate. Send a current photo.

Claude Bartram was the person responsible for the advertisement. He was an agent for Barnum and Bailey, an American circus. With expenses and debts mounting, Mary Ann had no choice but to respond to the advertisement.

She didn’t do it to become wealthy or well-known; instead, her main motivation was to provide for her cherished kids. Above all, Mary Ann was a mother.

Bartram contacted Mary Ann after she sent in a picture of herself. Later, the public came to know about the pictures of her.

But Bartram saw something more in that image, whereas many others just saw a frightening portrait of a huge woman. Unnoticed elements of Mary Ann’s personality and features were present.

She wasn’t at all disgusting. Her face was typical of a giant; it had a strong, masculine jaw, prominent cheekbones, a prominent nose, and a forehead, but she was flawless, robust, and healthy. Bartram then gave an explanation, saying, “She told me she did not like the idea of placing herself on exhibition, she was shy and did not want to be separated from her children,” as reported by Daily Star.

When Mary Ann travelled by boat across the Atlantic to arrive in New York in 1920, she was already well-known. Mary Ann was called “The Ugliest Woman on Earth” and her photo appeared on the cover of almost every newspaper in the Big Apple.

Samuel Gumpertz, a prosperous showman from Missouri, owned the Coney Island Circus, where Mary Ann would rise to fame.

Outperforming her fellow circus performers, the English newcomer made Mary Ann the centre of attention, competing against bearded women, conjoined twins, and other individuals with different physical limitations.

However, some individuals thought it was unethical to put people on exhibit at the circus. Even in the 19th century, people were offended when the impairments of freak show performers were used for financial gain. Prominent neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing intervened and insisted that they leave Mary Ann alone.

“The story of this sad woman who sits in Ringling Brothers’ sideshow ‘between Fat Lady and Armless Wonder’ and ‘affects white lace caps, woollen mittens, and high laced shoes’ is everything but amusing.

He said in a letter to Time magazine, “She, once a vigorous and good-looking young woman, has become the victim of a disease known as acromegaly.”

However, the circus continued to draw large crowds of regular people, and the directors profited handsomely. Mary Ann, regrettably, had to go through a lot in New York. She was made to look more ugly and unfeminine by wearing clothing meant for men. In addition, she had to endure jokes and remarks, which had to be damaging to her self-worth.

However, there was a benefit that made her decide it was worthwhile. Mary Ann made approximately $590,000 working with the circus, according to the Daily Star. Despite all she endured, she amassed a wealth. She also offered to sell picture postcards of herself, grinning mechanically.

Mary Ann was able to send her four kids to an English boarding school thanks to the money. Naturally, a mother’s biggest dread is to leave her kids behind on another continent, but Mary Ann was forced to do so and ultimately did everything in her power to provide her kids a brighter future.

The selfless When you are willing to sacrifice everything for the people you love, Mary Ann exemplified what true beauty looks like.

She returned to Paris in 1925 to take part in an exhibition, but she lived and worked in New York at the Coney Island Dreamland Show for the remainder of her life.

Mary Ann passed away from natural causes in 1933. Mary Ann lived to be 59 years old, and her children granted her final desire to be buried in her native nation following her passing. She is currently buried at South London’s Ladywell and Brockley Cemetery.

I’m not sure about you, but I respect Mary Ann.

Her tale demonstrates her unwavering will to provide for her family. She had to work for a living since there were no benefits like there are now. She was an incredibly devoted mother who prioritised her kids before herself.

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