Bearded Lady Dies In Her Brooklyn Home

“Last night, a few minutes after midnight, in a modest little frame house at 187 Cornelia Street, Barnum & Bailey’s bearded lady died. Known in public life as “America’s World Wonder” until a few months ago, her real name, Mrs. William Donovan, has at last become known by her death. She lies dead, unmourned except by her widowed mother.


“Perhaps no one of the freaks that have traveled with “The Greatest Show on Earth” has been with it so constantly as Mrs. Donovan. It might be well said she spent her entire life in its service. Born in Smith County, Virginia, On July 14, 1863, she was only nine months old when she entered upon her career as “America’s World Wonder,” so early in her infancy was the hirsute growth apparent on her baby face.


“Mr. Barnum gave her an immediate engagement on seeing her and for some time she was on exhibition at the old museum at Grand Street and Broadway, Manhattan. Mrs. Pogue, her mother, remained with her daughter constantly during this first period of her show life. As she grew older, however, Mrs. Pogue’s large family of 12 children demanded her attention, and the child was left to herself.


“When she was three years old she started travelling with the show, and in the course of her 37 years of life she visited every civilized country in the world and went as far as Japan. She had developed a heavy black beard and mustache.


“In 1880 a barker of the show proposed marriage to her and she accepted him, the couple being married unbeknown to their parents. Being only 15 at the time of her marriage, it was necessary for her husband, Richard Elliot, to misstate her age, and this and several circumstances turned her family against the match. It was not a happy one for her either, as events turned out, and in 1895 she procured a divorce in St. Louis and immediately married a second time. This second husband was William Donovan, a wardrobe man. He died two years ago of consumption, the disease that was later to bring her to her grave.


 1902: On This Day in History: October 22 - read the rest of the story here Brooklyn Daily Eagle



French postcard postmarked 1902.  Anna is seated toward the far left of the stage - highlighted in yellow.


While all this private touring was going on the Barnum & Bailey circus announced its intention to tour Europe also and set sail for London Nov 1897.  Did Annie know of this impending tour ahead of time? or was it a stroke of great luck that she and William, already in Europe, could now simply join up and continue to tour with the "Groesste Schaustellung der Welt."

The Circus remained in England for the first two seasons of 1898 and '99.  It was there in England when William and Annie joined up with their old show.  And it was there in England that William Donovan died.


Just two months shy of their fourth wedding anniversary, Annie and her childhood sweetheart were parted forever.

But the show must go on and so it did, even for Annie.  In 1900 the Circus spent almost the entire season in Germany (see poster above) and in 1901 traveled to and played in Budapest, Holland and Belgium.

Somewhere during this time Annie developed a persistent cough and fever.  Her skin became paler and there were times when she had to muster the strength just to get up on the platform.  She was in no condition to be onstage and before long was taken to a physician.

His diagnosis: Tuberculosis.

This disease was nothing to be trifled with.  Ironically, a tuberculosis conference was being held at the time in London where it was still being argued whether bovine and human tuberculosis were the same (they're not).  It's etiology was not completely understood then and one eminent doctor lectured on his belief that the "chief danger of contagion lay in the sputum." (It is)

But all this information was too little and too late for Annie.

She rallied for awhile, as tuberculars are wont to do, and stayed with the show into it's 1902 season where it played mostly in France.


Finally, while at Nîmes, Annie had to call it quits.  She was too weak and her condition too far advanced to go on. 

It must have been difficult to leave the show.  Annie had been in show business all her life and with Barnum & Bailey since that show began to tour - for some thirty years now.
She arrived back in the States to her Mother's home in Brooklyn in May. 

"When she entered the house she remarked that she had consumption," her Mother remembered, "and that she would not live longer than the time when the leaves started to fall."

At 12:30 in the morning of Oct 22 Annie Donovan died.   She was only thirty-seven years old.


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