Annie Jones, the most celebrated Bearded Lady of the Victorian era, began her unexpected career in exhibition shortly after she was born, with fine hair covering her chin, in Virginia in 1865.
Originally horrified by their daughter’s appearance, Annie’s parents soon realized the monetary benefits. Word of her unique appearance quickly traveled to the showman P. T. Barnum, who, after a successful trial run, offered Annie’s parents a three-year contract with a weekly salary of $150, an enormous sum for the day. They accepted the offer and took up permanent residence with her daughter in New York.
At 16, Jones married Richard Elliot, a professional sideshow talker. The marriage lasted 15 years before ending in divorce. Jones then married another talker and childhood sweetheart, William Donovan. Together, the newlyweds struck out on their own and toured Europe with Annie as an independent feature attraction and William as a vocal agent. The marriage was short-lived as William died without warning. Annie, not knowing what else to do, rejoined Barnum’s Greatest Show on Earth.
During her 36-year career, Annie became the country’s most renowned Bearded Lady. Not only did she sport a full and long beard, she also grew out the hair on her head to over six feet in length. Annie also expanded her talents, as she was not content to simply be stared at. She came to be known for her musical skills and gracious etiquette as much as her facial hair. As an adult, Annie acted as a spokesperson for Barnum’s “Freaks,” a word she tried to abolish from the business. In 1902, she fell ill and, while visiting her mother in Brooklyn, passed away aged 37.