Mary Ann Bevan: A Story of Sacrifice and Motherhood

In today’s world, we can be grateful for the progress our civilization has made. However, when we look back just a few centuries, there were some aspects of daily life that truly belonged in the past. One such example is the popularity of “freak shows” in the 19th century, which showcased individuals with unique physical characteristics for public entertainment.

Mary Ann Bevan, one of these so-called “odd” people, unfortunately earned the title of “Ugliest Woman in the World.” Her story is both fascinating and tragic, reminding us why we must never forget her.

Putting individuals on public display for profit is wrong, regardless of the time period. In the 19th century, these “freak shows” were widely popular, but today, it’s unthinkable to treat people with such disrespect. Exploitation for profit was seen as acceptable back then, but we now understand the ethical implications of this practice.

Mary Ann Bevan was born on December 20, 1874, in Plaistow, East London, United Kingdom. She grew up in a working-class household with eight children, but unlike her brothers who got jobs to support the family, Mary Ann had other aspirations. She pursued her education, graduated from medical school, and began working as a nurse in 1894.

With a bright future ahead of her, Mary Ann was a beautiful young woman who lived in London, a city that has become the thriving hub of our modern world. She married Thomas Bevan in 1902, and they had four children together. But tragedy struck when Thomas suffered a stroke and passed away after 14 years of marriage, leaving Mary Ann a widow with her four children.

As Mary Ann coped with her loss, she also had to confront another challenge. She began experiencing physical problems soon after her marriage, which progressively worsened over the years. It turns out she had acromegaly, a rare condition caused by an overproduction of growth hormone that results in enlarged body tissues and bones. This debilitating condition affected her appearance, particularly her face, making it broader and more masculine.

Today, we have a better understanding of acromegaly and how to treat it. But in Mary Ann’s time, little was known about the condition, and finding help was a challenge. She suffered both physically and psychologically, as her transformed appearance made it difficult for her to find employment and provide for her children.

In a desperate turn of events, Mary Ann stumbled upon a newspaper ad that would change her life. The ad sought the “ugliest woman” for a well-paying engagement in Barnum and Bailey’s circus, owned by showman Samuel Gumpertz. Mary Ann had no choice but to respond, driven by her mounting debts and the need to support her children.

However, there was more to Mary Ann than just her appearance. Claude Bartram, the person responsible for the ad, saw beyond her physical features. He noticed her resilience and strength of character. Bartram convinced Mary Ann to join the circus, promising her a weekly salary of £10 for a year, along with expenses and proceeds from the sale of picture postcards featuring her. This income would enable her to provide for her children’s education.

Mary Ann’s fame preceded her as she traveled to New York in 1920. Newspapers in the Big Apple featured her on their front covers, branding her “The Ugliest Woman on Earth.” At the Coney Island Circus, she outshone her fellow performers with her captivating presence and became the main attraction.

While some criticized the morality of using circus performers as props, Mary Ann’s story caught the attention of renowned neurosurgeon Harvey Cushing. He wrote a letter to Time magazine, urging people to show compassion for Mary Ann, who was a victim of acromegaly rather than a source of amusement.

Despite the challenges and criticism she faced, Mary Ann found solace in the financial success she achieved. According to The Daily Star, she earned close to $590,000 during her time with the circus. This enabled her to send her children to an English boarding school, even though it meant being separated from them on another continent.

Mary Ann returned to France in 1925 to take part in an exhibition but spent the remainder of her life in New York, working at the Coney Island Dreamland Show. She passed away at the age of 59 from natural causes, and her dying wish to be buried in her native country was carried out. She now rests in South London’s Ladywell and Brockley Cemetery.

Mary Ann Bevan’s story is one of sacrifice and motherhood, demonstrating her unwavering commitment to provide for her children. Unlike today, she did not have the support and benefits that we enjoy. Mary Ann was a mother who truly loved her children and placed their well-being above everything else.

Rest in peace, Mary Ann. You deserve it.


Similar articles