The German doctor lost it when he saw her face. Nobody knew what this woman had been through.


Different societies and cultures have very different ideas about what is beautiful and what is ugly. Even within cultures the definition of beauty can often differ from generation to generation. Mary Ann Bevan had the terrible luck of living at a time when people who didn’t fit the stereotypical version of beauty had very little to smile about. The story of how she became known as the «World’s Ugliest Woman» is a tragic one, but also quite inspiring.

Mary Ann was born on December 20, 1874 in London. She spent much of her youth working as a nurse and at the age of 29 she married a florist named Thomas Bevan. It was around this time that the first signs of Mary Ann’s illness began to show and from that point on, her life would never be the same. To make matters worse, her husband died in 1914 leaving her to raise their four children alone.

Mary Ann suffered from acromegaly, a condition caused by excess growth hormones which causes the enlargement of specific body parts, especially the extremities. At the age of 32 Mary Ann began to notice symptoms of this disease: progressive bodily deformities combined with headaches and muscle pain. But despite her suffering, Mary Ann refused to let it slow her down and she continued to work and provide for her family.


But eventually she had money problems and the desperate single mother chose to sacrifice her dignity for the sake of her family. She entered a «Homeliest Woman» contest and she actually won. From then on, Mary Ann was known as the «World’s Ugliest Woman.» It was a humiliating experience, but she was willing to swallow her pride because her family urgently needed the prize money.

After winning the contest, Mary Ann began her career as a circus attraction. As part of a «freak show» she toured the United Kingdom but eventually ended up in the United States working at the Coney Island Dreamland Sideshow. She continued to work there until her death in 1933.

Mary Ann’s very hard life reflects the intolerant times in which she lived. But even today things have not gotten much better as far as sensitivity to acromegaly sufferers is concerned. Only a few years ago, the Hallmark greeting card company sold a postcard with a picture of Mary Ann referring to her as the ugly contestant on a dating show. Thankfully, a doctor in Germany recognized the photo and complained to the company, informing them that the woman had suffered from a terrible disease and should be treated with respect. Hallmark quickly recalled the postcards.

It’s difficult to believe that even in this day and age people can be so thoughtless and insensitive when it comes to the perception of physical beauty. In the end, Mary Ann Bevan proved what true beauty looks like — doing whatever it takes to make sure that your loved ones are well cared for.