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.
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.
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
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
"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
renamed her premises "Caf de la Femme Barbe" (Caf of the
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.
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
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.
fearless, she agreed to enter a lions' cage in 1902, much to
the delight of the lion tamer who was grateful for the extra
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
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
other bearded women of the time, Clementine did not succumb
to pressure to join a circus.
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.
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".