Grace McDaniels was born to normal parents on a farm near Numa, Iowa in 1888, and joined F.W. Miller's freak show in 1935 after winning an "ugly woman" contest. She suffered from a genetic condition known as Sturge-Weber syndrome, which causes a large, purple birthmark on the head and face that thickens and distorts the flesh. Her condition was degenerative, her face becoming more and more misshapen with age until she she could barely speak. When she first entered showbusiness Grace disliked being called a freak and particularly objected to the "World's Ugliest Woman" title. She covered her birthmark with makeup when she wasn't onstage and covered her ears so she wouldn't hear the talker's lecture when she was. But she remained with the freak show because the pay was excellent, and in time grew to enjoy the attention she received, though she still objected to the word "ugly" and chose to be called the Mule-Faced Woman instead.

Those who knew Grace say she was a wonderful friend, a loving mother toward her son, and an all-around loveable person. Dolly Reagan, the Ossified Lady, remaked that "Grace was the kindliest person in the world." Though Grace enjoyed performing, she preferred being a homemaker and loved to cook, clean and sew.

Contrary to popular belief, Grace was never married (the rumor of her marriage can be traced back to Harry Lewiston's book, Freak Show Man). Rather, she was taken advantage of by an intoxicated carnival worker, and her son, Elmer, resulted from this union. Elmer inherited his father's vile temperament and passion for drink and was abusive of his poor mother, whose act he managed, stealing money from her and generally being so disagreeable that showmen refused to hire Grace just so they wouldn't have to deal with Elmer. Both Grace and Elmer passed away in 1958, though there is some confusion over which died first.

Click an image to see a larger version.


Updated 10.8.06.