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
“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
“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.
On This Day in History: October 22 - read
the rest of the story here
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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
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
"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.
about Ann Jones
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