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Victorian spectacle: Julia Pastrana, the bearded and hairy female

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Abstract

Julia Pastrana toured Europe in the late 1850s advertising herself as the 'Bearded and hairy Lady' or 'Nonedescript'. She suffered from a rare inherited disorder, not understood until the late 20th century, which manifested itself in facial distortion and considerable facial hair in the male pattern. Doctors, as well as sensation seekers, were very keen to examine her. Her story is unusual, not least because she was mummified after death by her husband-manager and continued to tour as a mounted exhibit for a number of decades. Indirectly, she participated in the evolutionary debate in Britain. In 1857, when she arrived in Britain from America, she was popularly known as the baboon-woman. When Darwin's Origin of Species was published, and evolutionary controversy about ape-ancestry was hot in the air, she was more often likened to the gorilla or orang-utan - as a possible specimen of a missing link.

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... Julia Pastrana entered history as one of the most extreme and earliest reported cases of this condition and, unfortunately after her death in 1860 her body was regularly exhibited in a number of shows until the second half of the 20 th century. With monikers such as the 'Victorian Ape Woman', the 'Non-descript', the 'Bear Woman', the 'Bearded Lady', 'The Ugliest Woman in the World' and described by Darwin [9] as 'a Spanish dancer, [who] was a remarkably fine woman, but she had a thick masculine beard and a hairy forehead', she laid in a mortuary at the Institute of Forensic Medicine, Oslo, since the mid 1970s with attempts in the 1990s to rebury her [10,11]. So, What happened to the body of Julia Pastrana? ...
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Julia Pastrana, known as ‘The Ape Woman’, was one of the most famous freaks in the Victorian age. Affected with hypertrichosis terminalis (since her body and her face were covered with black hair), Pastrana performed in tours in Europe and North America. She was reputed as a ‘bodily deviant’ creature in a society that structured its social, political and cultural discourses upon the notion of a ‘stable’ (female) body and identity. By reflecting on the notions of memory and forgetting, this chapter focuses on the ways in which Pastrana’s biography has been rewritten by Marco Ferreri in his movie La donna scimmia (1964), by Sandra Olson and Julian Fenech in their novel Julia Pastrana (2007), by Rosie Garland in The Palace of Curiosities (2013), and finally by Carol Birch in Orphans of the Carnival (2016).
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Julia Pastrana (1834-1860) has gained immortality as one of the most extreme cases of generalized hypertrichosis upon record. When she was exhibited for money in the United States and Europe during the years 1855-1860, people thronged to see her, and she was several times described in the medical press of the day. After Julia Pastrana's death in childbirth, her corpse was embalmed in a very life-like manner, and exhibited all over Europe for several decades. Later, the mummy was believed to be lost, but in 1990 it was discovered at the Oslo Forensic Institute. Some writers have included Julia Pastrana among the cases of congenital hypertrichosis languinosa. However, a microscopic examination of hair samples from the mummy shows that her hairy growth is unmistakably terminal in character, and we propose that she instead was an example of congenital, generalized hypertrichosis terminalis with associated gingival hyperplasia. While many earlier writers have asserted that Julia Pastrana's dentition was abnormal, a radiographic examination of the mummy has shown that she had a complete permanent dentition.
Curiosities of Natural History The Shows of London Julia Pastrana, the Nondescript: An Example of congenital, generalized hypertrichosis terminalis with gingival hyperplasia
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Anon (1860) Account of Miss Pastrana, the nondescript and the double-bodied boy, E. Hancock. Buckland, F. (1868) Curiosities of Natural History, Macmillan Altick, R. (1978) The Shows of London, Belnap Press Bondeson, J. and Miles, A.E.W. (1993) Julia Pastrana, the Nondescript: An Example of congenital, generalized hypertrichosis terminalis with gingival hyperplasia. American Journal of Medical Genetics 47, 198 – 212
Julia Pastrana: the bearded lady A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities, I.B. Taurus Fig. 4. Punch Cartoon 1861. Cartoons such as this flourished after the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species in 1859. Reproduced with permission from The Wellcome Library
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  • J Bondesen
Miles, A.E.W. (1973) Julia Pastrana: the bearded lady. Proceedings of the Royal College of Medicine 67, 8–12 Bondesen, J. (1997) A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities, I.B. Taurus Fig. 4. Punch Cartoon 1861. Cartoons such as this flourished after the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species in 1859. Reproduced with permission from The Wellcome Library, London. Review Endeavour Vol.27 No.4 December 2003
A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities
  • J Bondesen
Bondesen, J. (1997) A Cabinet of Medical Curiosities, I.B. Taurus Fig. 4. Punch Cartoon 1861. Cartoons such as this flourished after the publication of Darwin's On the Origin of Species in 1859. Reproduced with permission from The Wellcome Library, London.
1857) A short account of the bearded and hairy female
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Laurence, J.Z. (1857) A short account of the bearded and hairy female. The Lancet 70, 48
Account of Miss Pastrana, the nondescript and the doublebodied boy
Anon (1860) Account of Miss Pastrana, the nondescript and the doublebodied boy, E. Hancock.
Anon (1860) Account of Miss Pastrana, the nondescript and the double-bodied boy
  • E Hancock
A short account of the bearded and hairy female
  • Laurence
1868) Curiosities of Natural History
  • F Buckland