My Life Story


In a very poor and humble home, I was born on the 29th day of October, in the city of Chicago, Illinois.  My father and mother were English people, though my father became a naturalized citizen of the United States in 1882,

In the family were two sons, older than I, and a daughter, Emily, who was two years younger.


We were very poor indeed, most of the time not having sufficient food or clothing, and we thus came to the notice of the charitable societies of  Chicago.

In August of the year 1891, the Chicago Fresh Air Fund, in sending poor children to the country, sent to Columbia City, Indiana, a car load of little ones for a two weeks' outing.  I was included in the number, and we were all marked in Chicago with tags which stated by whom we were to be entertained.  My tag bore the name of Mrs. William E. Heagy, South

Whitley, Indiana, which is ten miles from Columbia City.  I was at the time a strong, healthy child.

Hearing of my poor and destitute home, they who entertained me became greatly interested and opened a correspondence with my father.

After a two weeks' stay, I returned home and in October of the same year, my mother died, leaving me to be the housekeeper at the age of nine years.  I did the work as best I knew home" there was not much to do or much to do with.


My father was a drinking man and was in the habit of sending his children to a neighboring saloon for liquor, though I was sent more often than any of the others.  I remember tasting of the liquor I carried, and think it was always beer.  In November, 1891, and on the afternoon of Thanksgiving Day, my father and I were alone in the house, my brothers being at play out of doors, and in going about the house, * I found a bottle filled with what I afterwards knew must have been whiskey.  Being but a child, I picked up the bottle and drank freely from it; its effect was almost immediate, and I grew weak and stupefied.  My father was in an adjoining room and called to me to go and put some wood on the kitchen fire and I called back that I was sick and could not go, but he insisted and I obeyed.  I had taken the lids from the stove, when, from the combined effect of the heat and the liquor, my whole being gave way and I sank on to the open stove, unconscious.  I must have lain there some time, for the physicians and surgeons said that the bones of my hands and arms were amputated three inches from the shoulders.  I was burned on the neck and on the chest but those burns were not serious.


We lived at this time at 548 Park Avenue, and neighbors claimed that my father was also intoxicated, and that he held me on the stove until my arms were burned, and that they heard me screaming.  The Humane Society of Illinois took the matter u and had my father placed under arrest.  After a trial in a Justice Court, he was held to the grand jury, and, on the final trial in the spring of 1892, he was acquitted for lack of evidence.


I was discharged from the Hospital February, 1892, and went from there to spend a few weeks at South Whitley with Mrs. Heagy, with whom I had stayed on my outing the summer before.


In the meantime, the Children's Home Society of Illinois took control of me, my father waiving all right or claim to me or to any money which I might ever earn.  Through the efforts of Dr. Frank M. Gregg, (now deceased) of the Children's Home Society, a "Kittie Smith Fund" was raised, generous people far and near responding to the call.  This fun was used to support and educate me.


On returning to Chicago, I spent the balance of the year 1892 at the Englewood Nursery and, during the following four years, kind and generous people at various times took me into their homes for a few weeks' stay, and I made several visits to South Whitley.

At the Home for Destitute Crippled Children, I learned to write and to sew with my feet, and was given instruction in the common school studies.


In 1896, I was sent by the Children's Home Society to Poynette, Wisconsin, where I lived for eight years in a private family, the Society my board and expenses out of the "Kittie Smith Fund".  In Poynette I went to the public school, and practically completed the High School Course.


In August, 1904, the "Fund" having theretofore been exhausted, and I having attained the age of twenty-one years, the Society's obligations to me ceased; therefore I am now left on my own resources.  As stated before, I have two brothers and one sister, my father having died some time since in the Cook County Hospital.  My sister, I have not seen since 1891, as she was taken just before my accident by the Children's Home Society and adopted into the home of well to do people in Chicago, whose identity I never have learned.  My brothers are laborers, and the circumstances of neither are such that they can provide for me.


In the last few years, I have earned a little money by selling my drawings and embroidery, and writing cards.  Being now on a visit again to South Whitley, kind and generous friends here, having seen my work and desiring to aid me in making a comfortable living, have made it possible for me to publish this little book.  In it, you will find reproductions of some of my drawings and embroidery, all done with my feet, and of a quilt, the pieces of which I cut and sewed.  I never have had a lesson in drawing or sketching, acquiring the little knowledge I have on the subject by practice, using a study which I place on the floor at the side of my drawing paper.  I sharpen my pencils, opening and closing the Knife myself, and use the scissors to cut all, cloth or any material with which I am working.  I can almost entirely dress myself, wash my face, brush my teeth, take my bath, and comb my hair, when it is not too long.  Ah, yes, I am quite a housekeeper too, for I can sweep and dust, mop and scrub, and even blacken stoves.  I have made several articles of furniture, such as small book cases and writing desks, sawing some of the lumber, driving the nails, putting on the hinges, and even varnishing them, but those articles are in Wisconsin, hence no reproduction of the work.


But being able to do the many things which I can do, the sad fact yet remains that I am helpless in some ways far beyond conception.


Toward those who have helped me in the past, my heart is filled with boundless gratitude; and to you who help me by buying this little book, I shall answer and say "Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these, my brethren, ye have done it unto me."


                                                                              Sincerely yours,



Born in Chicago

of Poor Parents

Family becomes

Object of Charity

First come to

South Whitley

as a Fresh Air Child

Mother Dies

When I am Nine Years Old.

The Story of My Accident

My Father Often

Sends me

to the Saloon

I Drink of the Liquor Because I know no Better

While Intoxicated I Fall Into The Fire

My arms were

Burned Until They

had to be Amputated

My Father Arrested

But Afterward


"Kittie Smith Fund

Raised by Children's Home Society

In the Hands of Charitable


I learn to Use my Feet Like Hands


I Received a High

School Education

The Fund Exhausted and I Become Dependent Upon Myself

My Brothers

Unable to Help Me

Earn my First Money by Selling my Work

"A Ray of Hope"
I Have Learned "Where There's Will There's a Way"


Pages from History

A collection of historic Images - Kittie Smith


Click On The Photos Below To View Full Size.




Fresh Air Children Kittie Smith Needle Work Quilt





Pencil Drawing Pencil Drawing Pencil Drawing News Paper Articles

Document Words of Commendation Type Written Letter Foot Written Letter

My Life Story booklet courtesy of Patt Kelley


Articles - Links - Mis

Does Wonderful Things






The Truth Behind Kitty's Tragedy


Katherine M. "Kitty" Smith was born in Chicago on October 21, 1882, to a poor inner-city family. At the age of nine she attended a fresh air retreat in Whitley County, Indiana, for two weeks; at this time, Kitty was entirely normal and with a full complement of limbs. It was not until later that year, after her mother suddenly died and she was left in the care of her alcoholic father, that Kitty became armless.  * In her autobiographical pamphlet, published years later, Kitty claimed her drastic injury was the result of an innocent accident. On Thanksgiving day, 1891, little Kitty came across an open bottle of whiskey and partook. Her father called from another room, asking her to put more wood on the fire. When she took the lid from the stove, the wave of heat, combined with her drunkenness, caused her to faint into the hot stove. She was saved from death by her younger brother, but her arms could not be saved and both were amputated, three inches from the shoulder, at Cook County Hospital. Kitty remained hospitalized until February of 1892.

The truth behind Kitty's tragedy, however, is far more sinister. It seems that an intoxicated William Smith ordered his young daughter to cook him dinner. When Kitty failed to obey, he held her arms and hands against the hot stove until they were too badly burnt to be salvaged. The Humane Society intervened and arrested Mr. Smith for this barbaric act of abuse, and he was tried in the spring of 1892, but the jury failed to convict him. Kitty was staying at the Home for the Friendless at this point and when she appeared to testify in court, she wanted nothing more than to be embraced by the man who had disfigured her. She was allowed to remain in her father's arms for only a few minutes before the two were pried apart and Kitty was led away, sobbing. A religious woman, she would eventually forgive her father and include the less incriminating story in her autobiography.


Kitty remained a ward of the Children's Home Society of Illinois for several years, living at the Home for Destitute and Crippled Children. A Dr. Frank M. Gregg took a special interest in her and established the "Kitty Smith Fund" to pay for her education. After leaving the home, she went to stay with a family in Poynette, Wisconsin, for the next eight years.


When Kitty turned 21, in 1904, she could no longer draw assistance from the state and found herself on her own. Her father had died and neither of her two brothers, both laborers, had the means to help her. It was at this point, Kitty claimed, that she began to learn to use her feet, although it's more likely that she began using her toes as fingers as soon as she found herself without arms. She turned her attention to drawing, and within a year could draw well enough to sell her drawings for money. So successful was Kitty at exploiting her handicap that she soon established the Kitty Smith Company and began selling copies of her autobiography by mail. Each booklet was accompanied by a card with a slot for a quarter. By March of 1906, Kitty had amassed some $35,000 in quarters from a sympathetic public. Her company, managed by a man who sought to make a fortune of his own, employed a bookkeeper, stenographer, office boy and eleven envelope stuffers. Her intent was noble, however: she aspired to help children with disabilities overcome their handicaps and become successful people like herself.


Kitty's skills were not limited to the realm of business. According to her autobiography, she could "write a letter, paint a picture and embroider in silk. She can saw wood, drive nails, mow the lawn, thread a needle and operate a phonograph. She can sweep, dust, mop, scrub, blacken stoves, build book-cases, chairs and desks and varnish them. She can comb her hair, brush her teeth, take her hat off, eat at table and do many other things, remarkable for an armless girl." She could also play the piano and type on a typewriter. Of typing, Kitty told newspapers, "You see, with all the training in the world one cannot spread one's toes as wide apart as one's fingers. The trouble at first was that I would strike two keys at once, but I finally managed to overcome this fault." She was a member of the Epworth League, an order of Methodist youth, and sang in the Methodist choir. In 1913, under Illinois' new women's suffrage law, Kitty was the first woman in the Chicago suburb of Maywood to cast a ballot.


By the 1930s Kitty was working as a professional armless wonder, exhibiting at Coney Island as well as with the Ringling Bros., Barnum & Bailey and John Robinson circuses.


The truth behind Kitty's tragedy from Elizabeth Anderson's Phreequeshow



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