The Boisdechênes reluctantly obeyed. They returned to Versoix
and raised the little girl the best they could for the next
eight years. At the end of the waiting period, they took her
back to Geneva for a final diagnosis. The whiskers on
Joséphine's face were thicker and coarser than the typical man's
beard, the doctors concluded. Any attempt to shave or pluck the
beard would only entice it to grow in thicker. Disappointed, the
Boisdechênes returned once again to Versoix, where they followed
doctors' advice once more and did not attempt to cut or shave
little Joséphine's beard. Determined to make the best life for
their daughter, beard
no beard, however, they sent her away to boarding school.
Then, Mme. Boisdechêne died, and M. Boisdechêne, unable to care
for three young children by himself, brought Joséphine home.
Joséphine was just fourteen years old, with a glossy black beard
that reached five inches at its longest hair. By now, the
extraordinary bearded girl was well-known around Versoix and
neighboring villages. Soon, M. Boisdechêne began receiving
letters from showmen who wanted to exhibit his daughter.
first, M. Boisdechêne staunchly refused to let strangers make a
show freak out of his daughter. After all, she may have been
extraordinary, but she was still his child, and now she was a
surrogate mother to her three small siblings. However, the
offers became more and more enticing, and at last, in 1849, an
unnamed showman from Lyons, France, offered M. Boisdechêne
enough money to put his objections to rest. He leased out his
farm, sent the other three children to boarding school, and went
on tour with Joséphine.
Joséphine and her father toured Switzerland and France, at first
with the showman's help and then on their own. In Paris she met
with Napoleon III and received a gift of a massive diamond from
the soon-to-be emperor (invoking the wrath of the Empress
Eugénie, some say). It is said that Joséphine greatly admired
him and styled her beard after his, and wore the diamond proudly
nestled in her whiskers. While appearing at Troyes, Joséphine –
then 18 years old – made the acquaintance of Fortune Clofullia,
an aspiring landscape painter, who also had a beard. After just
three months' courtship, Joséphine and Fortune were married. He
joined his bride and father-in-law on tour, selling his
paintings along the way.
From France, Joséphine, Fortune and M. Boisdechéne made their
way to London for the Great Universal Exposition. Joséphine was
such a success there that they made it their home for over a
year. Then, on December 26, 1851, Joséphine gave birth to her
first child, a girl whom she named Jane Zelia Fortunne Clofullia.
The baby girl, who was not hairy like her mother, proved to be
an excellent promotion for Joséphine's show career. She obtained
a medical certificate affirming that the baby was really hers,
and began appearing with child in arms as "The Bearded Mother".
Doubts of Joséphine's womanhood were extinguished by the sight
of the new mother cradling her infant daughter. The baby lived
just eleven months, but by the time she succumbed, Joséphine was
already quite pregnant again. Her second child, a boy named
Albert, was born just two months after the baby girl was buried.
And, to the Clofullias' delight, Albert was covered in hair just
like his mother.
The birth of a hairy baby to a bearded and hairy mother
attracted P.T. Barnum's attention, and he paid to have the
Clofullias brought to the United States. Soon Mme. Clofullia was
a star attraction at the American Museum in New York City, with
little Albert billed as "The Infant Esau". Museum-goers loved
the hairy mother and baby, or at least most of them did – one,
William Charr, believed that Joséphine was really a man in
women's clothing, and took Barnum to court for his twenty-five
cents' admission plus damages. On the testimony of M.
Boisdeschêne, M. Clofullia, and countless doctors, Barnum won
the case. (As one might expect, however, it was later revealed
that the entire "suit" had been orchestrated by Barnum himself –
a tactic he would recycle with almost all his bearded ladies for
the remainder of his career.)
Joséphine's death date is usually given as 1875, though it's
unknown at present where or how she died.