A Great Mother Who Went Down in History as “The World’s Ugliest Woman”

by Amala Suman2 weeks ago
Picture A Great Mother Who Went Down in History as “The World’s Ugliest Woman”

Lately, the Internet has been flooded with pictures of a woman who has masculine features, a huge jawline, saggy eyes, and a wide forehead. The world has popularly known her as “The Ugliest Woman in History.” But, as you read her story, it will leave you baffled by the question if she is really the ugliest or the bravest. Here is the anecdote of Mary Ann Bevan that will shake your senses and leave you wondering how humanity hit rock bottom.

Who Was Mary Ann Bevan? Early Life, Career, and Family

London 19th century
London, 19th century.

Mary Ann Bevan was born in London on 20th December 1874. She was one of eight children raised by a working-class family who struggled to make ends meet. So Mary had to face an agonized childhood and go through a rough phase to fulfill her dream of becoming a nurse.

Mary and her children
Mary and her children

As she reached adulthood and into her late 20s, her life spun around, and she took a turn toward an enchanting love story when she met Thomas Bevan. In 1902, she married the love of her life at 29 years of age and spent her merrily married days as a beautiful nurse, a loving wife, and a caring mother with her husband, Thomas Bevan, and their four children.

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What Made Mary Lose Her Physical Features?

Mary Ann Bevan
Mary Ann Bevan. Image source: Wikimedia

After her wedding, in her 30s, although Mary lived an ordinary life, she was indeed happy, as all the family members supported each other and faced all odds together. During this period, she also developed a strange disease called “acromegaly.” But this did not stop her husband from showering his love on her. However, her married life did not last long as Thomas died of a stroke in 1914, which was just 11 years after the couple met each other. Her family became her only source of comfort when she quit her job as a nurse after noticing visible signs and symptoms of her disease.

Mary Ann developed acromegaly at 32, a rare hormonal disorder in which the pituitary gland produces excess growth hormone, eventually causing physical deformities beyond recognition. Research says that a non-cancerous pituitary tumor can be a cause of acromegaly, and this disorder affects mostly middle-aged adults. The symptoms are physical deformities and abnormal enlargement of bones in the head, hands, legs, etc. In some cases, it causes the enlargement of organs, including the heart.

Acromegaly was an unknown disease during those days, and doctors had little knowledge of how to treat it. We now know a lot more about the disease. For example, we know that it affects up to six out of every 100,000 people. If we detect the condition in time, it can be treated using prolonged medication and even cured. People diagnosed with acromegaly today have the same life expectancy as the general population when they receive therapy early on.

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Unfortunately, Mary became a victim of this disorder, as it had a significant financial and drastic psychological impact on her life. She was a charming, independent woman with sharp features and a decent job before developing acromegaly, which made her appear larger and more muscular, and manlike. Although she had no income to support herself and her four children after her husband’s death, no one wanted to hire her nursing services, primarily because of her ugly and manly appearance that drew unkind comments from passersby.

How Did Mary Turn Obstacles into Opportunities?

Mary Ann
Mary Ann. Image credit: American Philosophical Society

By her late 30s, Mary reached a point where she became the only income source for her family after the demise of her husband. Despaired Mary saw an advertisement in a local newspaper one day which said, “Wanted: Ugliest woman. Maimed or disfigured. Good pay and long engagement guaranteed.” Facing possible destitution, she applied for this position to provide for her children.

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Claude Bartram, a European agent who handles “Barnum and Bailey,” an American circus, recruited Mary as a new season freak for his cruel and lucrative sideshow circuit where she can be gawped at. Despite her reluctance to put herself on display and live separately away from her children, she decided to take up this opportunity on a payment of 10-pound sterling per week that would immensely help her educate her children.

Dreamland Park at Coney Island
Dreamland Park at Coney Island, 1905. Image credit: Wikimedia

To begin with, Mary toured Hampshire and managed to grab enough attention from the audience that it later offered her a chance to collaborate with the Dreamland Circus in Coney Island. As New York newspapers featured her photos on the cover pages with the title “Ugliest Woman on Earth,” she went on to become the star of the show and accomplished her goal of earning a fortune. For years, Mary was ridiculed, humiliated, and insulted by her fellow humans in every possible show that earned her 20,000-pound sterling. She used this money to send her kids to a boarding school, and she regularly kept in touch with them through letters and visits.

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How Mary Spent Her Final Days? 

Coney Dreamland and 'World's ugliest woman'
Dreamland Park, Coney Island. Image credit: Wikimedia

Following her success in numerous traveling shows, the paying public flocked to see Mary in her freak display costumes. In the early 20th century, these inhumane shows where the money spinners would make a fortune using people’s deformities were legal and considered attractions. It is no longer acceptable to use deformed people as entertainment in the present times, but from the 1840s to 1940s, freak shows gained tremendous popularity.

Mary Ann was forced to dress in clothes that made her appear more unattractive and rugged. She returned to Europe in 1925 to participate in a Paris exhibition but spent the rest of her life at the Coney Dreamland show. With adequate cash and wealth stashed, she retired quickly and resorted to alcohol and substance abuse. She squandered her money gratuitously as a coping mechanism, as she seemed to have been missing all the attention that she used to get while she was working for shows. Mary was heartbroken and left emotionally alone. She died of natural causes in 1933 at the age of 59. Her children fulfilled her dying wish of being buried in her birth country. She now rests in peace in South London’s Ladywell and Brockley Cemetery.

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Protests Against Hallmark for Using Mary’s Pic

Mary ann protest
Protest against using Mary’s picture.

In the early 2000s, Hallmark distributed a birthday card using Mary’s pictures to deride her. The card alluded to the dating show “Blind Date.” After a Dutch doctor raised a complaint against the use of the disfigured woman, local protests erupted, and Hallmark considered halting the distribution of these cards temporarily. When Hallmark discovered Mary Ann had a physical disorder, they agreed to stop the distribution completely but stated that existing stock would not be recalled. A significant number of people felt it is dishonorable to profit from the misery and misfortune of others’ illnesses.

This incident proves that, though Mary Ann had to endure the world’s cruelty for the most part of her life, many people still regard her as a strong and independent mother who was determined to support her family and demonstrated her true beauty through self-sacrifice.

Also Read:
The Story of Mammy Pleasant, the Secret Millionaire Maid of the Nineteenth Century

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