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Mary Ann Bevan: The Life and Legacy of the ‘World’s Ugliest Woman’

Photo Credit: Unknown Author / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain (Colorized & Enhanced by DeepAI)
Photo Credit: Unknown Author / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain (Colorized & Enhanced by DeepAI)

The tale of Mary Ann Bevan is a poignant journey that spans the full range of human emotions, encompassing profound sadness and remarkable bravery. Bestowed with the unfortunate title of the “world’s ugliest woman,” Bevan’s existence transcended this cruel epithet. Her life’s path, marked by significant obstacles and harsh judgments from society, stands as a profound testament to the resilience of the human spirit and the multifaceted concept of beauty.

Mary Ann Bevan lived a relatively normal life at first

Mary Ann Bevan’s (née Webster) beginnings were no different from any other girl born in late-19th century London. Born in December 1874, she grew up a part of a working-class family in the city’s east end.

A nurse by trade, she married greengrocer Thomas Bevan in 1902 and, together, they experienced deep love and a bountiful life with four children – two sons and two daughters. They lived a blissful experience until 1914, when Thomas unexpectedly passed away, leaving his wife a widow and their offspring fatherless.

Struggles with acromegaly

Portrait of Mary Ann Bevan
Mary Ann Bevan, 1919. (Photo Credit: A. R. Coster / Stringer / Getty Images)

Fate dealt a cruel hand when Mary Ann Bevan began suffering from acromegaly, an uncommon disorder that’s caused by a benign growth on the pituitary gland, resulting in an overproduction of growth hormones. The condition altered her features and created an appearance that many found disconcerting; her nose, feet, hands and forehead grew, and her jaw began to jut out. This was on top of debilitating headaches and the loss of her eyesight.

With these physical changes came a shift in Bevan’s trajectory, as the public’s gaze shifted from indifference to morbid curiosity. Following the premature death of her husband, she faced the overwhelming responsibility of providing for her offspring, and the odd job wasn’t enough to pay the bills

With limited opportunities at her disposal, Bevan made the agonizing choice to leverage her unique looks. She participated and emerged victorious in a contest for the “world’s ugliest woman,” which subsequently led to an engagement with the Dreamland sideshow at Coney Island. Although the work was humiliating, it served as a means to ensure the well-being of her family.

Mary Ann Bevan’s experience in the spotlight

Mary Ann Bevan sitting in a chair
Mary Ann Bevan, 1924. (Photo Credit: American Philosophical Society / Eugenics Archive)

Mary Ann Bevan’s existence was a constant battle between public mockery and personal honor. In the public eye, she was a spectacle, but, behind the scenes, she was a doting mother and a woman of incredible fortitude. Her life served as a stark illustration of society’s superficial tendencies, which often overlook the individual behind the exterior.

Along with appearing at Coney Island, Bevan was made a sideshow with the Ringling Bros. Circus. Continually drawing crowds, she appeared alongside the likes of Lady Viola, the Tattooed Lady, and Stephan Bibrowski, the Lion-Faced Man. Attendees who were interested in keeping a reminder of the show were able to purchase postcards featuring Bevan’s portrait, the revenue from which helped keep her afloat.

The choice Bevan made to enter the world of sideshow entertainment was driven by a powerful, unwavering motivation: to secure the future of her children. Her self-sacrifice stands as a powerful example of maternal devotion and her ability to persevere in the face of humiliation was truly heroic.

Mary Ann Bevan’s contributions to medical knowledge

Mary Ann Bevan sitting on a chair
Mary Ann Bevan. (Photo Credit: Unknown Author / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Mary Ann Bevan’s experience with acromegaly brought valuable insights to the medical field, enhancing the understanding of this rare condition. Her high profile helped promote awareness and fostered a deeper comprehension of the difficulties faced by those with uncommon medical issues. Thus, her life had a meaningful impact far beyond the circus, influencing both scientific progress and compassionate awareness.

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On December 26, 1933, at the age of 59, Bevan passed away. She was interred back in the United Kingdom, at Brockley and Ladywell Cemeteries in London’s Lewisham borough.

June Steele

June Steele is one of the authors writing for The Vintage News