The daughter of 600-pound Ringling Brothers fat lady Ada Reese Smith and 255-pound Silas Smith, Ruth Smith was born in Kempton, Illinois, on February 8, 1903. Her maternal grandmother had also been a circus fat lady. She had one sister, who was average-sized. Ruth allegedly weighed sixteen pounds at birth, 50 pounds by the age of one year, and 300 pounds at the age of 10. She attended elementary school in Kempton and then moved to Cincinnati to live with her mother. The 400-pound teenager aspired to be a businesswoman, but had difficulty keeping a job, since ordinary chairs could not support her and coworkers couldn’t help but gawk. Finally, with her mother's help, she joined the Ringling Circus.

During her career she was known as first as "Ima Waddler", then as "Baby Ruth", the name she kept for the rest of her life. While working with Ringling, Ruth met and married Joe Pontico, a 135-pound man who sold balloons with with the circus. People who worked with her said she was among the kindest, most generous people in the show, and she faced the hardships brought on by her size with cheerful resignation. Once, while visting her sister, she fell through the floor and had to be removed with a crane (the Ponticos' own home in Tampa had reinforced floors). Another time, she was unable to enter her sleeping quarters on the circus train until mechanics cut away part of the doorway.

She stayed with Ringling until 1934, when she fell gravely ill with typhus, a disease carried by rat fleas that causes a dangerously high fever. With a temperature of 104 degrees F, Ruth was considered unlikely to survive. She was hospitalized for two weeks in Springfield, Missouri, where she lost over 100 pounds on her doctor-prescribed liquid diet. Astonishingly, she recovered.

Ruth joined Royal American shows after her typhus scare and continued performing until 1941, when she underwent surgery in Tampa to remove a benign tumor. Although the surgery initially appeared to be successful, Ruth did not regain consciousness and passed away on November 29, 1941. She weighed 815 pounds at the time of her death.

Created 1.13.09.