Born in 1860, Fanny Mills was the daughter of English immigrants
who settled near Sandusky, Ohio. She had a condition called
Milroy disease, which restricts development of the lymph vessels
in the legs and causes fluid build-up. Fanny was a petite woman
who weighed but 115 pounds, yet she wore size 30 shoes, each
pair made from three goat skins, with pillowcases as socks. Each
foot was said to be 19 inches long and 7 inches wide, although
photos clearly show that they were not the same size. Her
exhibition career began in 1885, when she entered the museum
circuit, accompanied by a nurse, Mary Brown. Brown helped Fanny
move from place to place, as her large feet made walking very
difficult. Fanny's promoters offered $5000 and a "well-stocked
farm" to anyone willing to marry the big-footed girl. Eventually
she did marry, to William Brown, the brother of her assistant.
When she came down with an unknown illness in 1892, she retired
from showbusiness, returning to her family's farm with her
husband. She died the same year.
Milroy disease (or Nonne-Milroy disease) was first described in
1891 and causes many anomalies aside from lymphedema, including
spinal cysts, yellow nails, double eyelashes and hearing loss.
It is most common in women (70-80% of patients are female) and
is an autosomal dominant trait.
Source: Marc Hartzman,
American Sideshow, p. 67-68.
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