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French Bearded Lady, Madame Delait

Memoirs of a bearded lady who noted barbed comments in ink

THE memoirs of a French bearded lady who enjoyed international celebrity in the 19th and early 20th centuries have been discovered in a garage sale in eastern France by a collector.

Written in violet ink in a school exercise book and decorated with spectacular photographs and press cuttings from the period, the memoirs of Clementine Delait were bought for "a very modest sum" by Roland Marchal, 79, a second-hand dealer and collector from Bellefontaine in the Vosges.

 

The 50-page document provides a fascinating insight into the life of an extraordinary woman who, far from suffering from her generous facial hair, took great delight in it and used it to her advantage.

 

"I had a magnificent beard, curly and abundant which spread out in a double plume," she related with obvious pride in her memoirs.

 

Born Clementine Clatteaux on 5 March, 1865 in the hamlet of Chamousey near Charmes in Lorraine, eastern France, her memoirs recount how her facial hair began growing while she was still a teenager.

 

"How did my beard grow? I don't know," she said.

 

"But I can assure you that at 18 years of age my upper lip was already decorated with a promising down which agreeably enhanced my brunette skin tone."

 

In 1885, she married a local baker, changed her name to Delait and opened a caf and bakery in the village of Taon-les-Vosges.

 

Until that point Clementine had conscientiously shaved off her beard every day, but while working at the caf she made a bet with a customer to let it grow.

 

"The success was immediate ... they were all crazy about me," her memoirs state.

 

She promptly renamed her premises "Caf de la Femme Barbe" (Caf of the Bearded Woman).

 

A photograph of the period shows her seated outside the caf in a horsedrawn carriage, holding a whip and sporting a full beard beneath her elegant hat.

 

Clementine had a brother Auguste, who also boasted a magnificent beard, although her memoirs record that she always believed hers to be more beautiful than his.

 

In her memoirs, Clementine described a visit to meet another bearded lady at a fair in Nancy.

 

However, she returned unimpressed by the other woman's beard.

 

"A badly groomed phenomenon, neither man nor woman, who does not even have the excuse of being from the Auvergne," she said, referring to a region of France whose inhabitants have a reputation for meanness.

 

She did, however, come home with a recipe for hair pomade which she was eager to try out on her beard. By her own account, Clementine was an imposing figure who weighed 14 stone at the age of 30 and nearly 16 stone by the time she was 40.

 

Apparently fearless, she agreed to enter a lions' cage in 1902, much to the delight of the lion tamer who was grateful for the extra publicity.

 

In 1904, a special government authorisation was required to allow Clementine to wear men's clothing, although she often preferred to wear a skirt while practising her favourite sport, cycling.

 

A popular postcard of the period showed her with her bicycle and the title "Madame Delait, member of the Thaonnais cycling club".

 

Her fame spread and she received invitations from as far away as America, but Clementine was a devoted wife who refused them all to remain with her husband who was in ill-health.

 

Some 34 years after their marriage, the couple adopted a five-year-old girl whose parents had died in a Spanish flu epidemic, the memoirs recorded.

 

Unlike many other bearded women of the time, Clementine did not succumb to pressure to join a circus.

 

"It never entered my head that I could be nothing more than a female curiosity exhibited," her memoirs state.

 

"I was much more and much better than that."

 

But when her husband died in 1928, Clementine finally accepted invitations to visit the famous Paris funfair, La Foire du Trone and travelled abroad to London and Ireland.

 

Clementine, who is believed not to have been able to write very well, dictated her memoirs to Pol Ramber, a reporter from the local newspaper, La Libert de l'Est, in the 1930s.

 

The text is written in his hand and signed by him.

 

"My modest life was without reproach. I was held in esteem by all my compatriots." said Clementine.

 

She asked that her tomb be carved with the epitaph, "Here lies Clementine Delait, the bearded lady".

 

 

 

 

While attending a fair she seen an unimpressive bearded lady at the sideshow, she wagered that she could grow a fuller beard.  Bets were met with conterbets at her husband's Cafe' Delait.  Clementine soon won the contest, and when people began to come from afar to see her, Monsieur Delait renamed their business Cafe' de la femme  a' barbe (Cafe' of the Bearded Lady).

 

 

 


 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Background Image by Maly Siri

 


 

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