‘World’s Ugliest Woman’ Finally Given a Dignified Burial, 153 Years After Her Death

At last, a moment of dignity for Julia Pastrana

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Universal Images Group / Getty Images
Universal Images Group / Getty Images

She was called “bear woman,” “the bearded and hairy lady” and once described as the hybrid of a human and an orangutan. Throughout her life, her husband exhibited her as a freak of nature on a worldwide tour.

She passed away in 1860 but was never given a proper burial — instead, she was mummified so she could continue being displayed as a circus object. But on Tuesday, more than 150 years after her death, she was finally buried. Now she rests with the dignity that life had rarely afforded her.

This is the story of Julia Pastrana, known as the world’s ugliest woman. Born in Mexico in 1834, Pastrana suffered from two rare diseases that were undiagnosed in her time: generalized hypertrichosis lanuginose, which gave her copious facial hair and gingival hyperplasia, which thickened her jaw, Reuters reported.

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In the mid-1850s, she was sold to Theodore Lent, a U.S. impresario who later married her to keep control of her and the money she was bringing in, according to the New York Times. She reportedly fell madly in love with Lent, who taught her to sing and dance in order to parade her in freak shows across the United States and Europe.

Pastrana died in 1860 after giving birth to Lent’s son, who inherited his mother’s condition. The boy died five days later, but Lent was relentless in his pursuit of circus fame. He mummified the bodies of both mother and son, and the show carried on.

In the ensuing decades, the bodies changed many hands. The son’s remains were damaged beyond repair, but the mother’s body ended up in a storage room at the University of Oslo in Norway, according to the New York Times.

Today, more than 150 years after her death, her remains were finally brought back to her hometown after the New York-based visual artist Laura Anderson Barbata spent almost a decade lobbying for her return. The New York Times reported that Mario Lopez, the current governor of Sinaloa state, the birthplace of Pastrana, later joiner her cause and made a crucial contribution to Pastrana’s repatriation.

After a Roman Catholic mass at a local church, Pastrana was buried in the town cemetery in a white coffin garlanded with white rose while traditional music played. “Imagine the aggression and cruelty of humankind she had to face, and how she overcame it,” Lopez told Reuters. “It’s a very dignified story.”

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35 comments
dawgGoodie
dawgGoodie

Why is it that if a person digs up a body in a week, she is a pervert. If she digs up a body in a year, she is a grave robber. If she digs up a body 100 years following death, she is a scientist? 

TerezaMartins
TerezaMartins

She was kind of cute and what’s beauty anyway, beautiful to me might be ugly to others. Moral of the story don't punish people for things they have no control over, I find that ugly for sure!

neilarmstrong1964
neilarmstrong1964 like.author.displayName 1 Like

Should check her DNA, it would prove neanderthal is still in our genes, and maybe alive and well on earth today.

SabrinaCire
SabrinaCire like.author.displayName 1 Like

..."Julia Pastrana, known as the world’s ugliest woman...Born in Mexico in 1834," she was not black, she was Mexican!

Complutensian
Complutensian

@hkhodges I am sympathic to your argument, but it falls flat. It objectifies the past in a way that glosses over any possible moral evil. I surely can blame them for being ignorant and racist, and inflicting suffering upon those disempowered by the social structures around them. The fact that there were moral arguments made against the exploitation or abuse of other humans (race, culture, or gender) is testimony against the "ignorance" of the day. I certainly understand how we can sympathize with ignorance, but it does not give those perpetrators a pass. It didn't take an abolitionist or suffragist to know that certain constructs of their day were evil or morally problematic. There is plenty of source material from novelists and religious figures to reference too, but at the very base, people know when they are being treated as inferior or less than human. When they have no options to break free, complacency or concession occurs, especially when they are dependent on others for survival.

hkhodges
hkhodges

In the mid 19th century, people were ignorant. They believed that some humans were indeed superior with others. They believed that they could not breed with each other due to the differences. They believed some were closer to animal than human.


As unbelievable as this is, they also believed the earth was only 6,000 years old and that the world was made in 6 days by an invisible person living in the sky. 


You can't blame the people of the 19th century. They were ignorant of how the laws of nature work, science, chemistry, and also their was no access to stored information like there is today. The average person could not learn about DNA and about how old the Earth really is and how evolution works, or that their were Dinosaurs on the Earth 150 million years ago. The people of the 19th century can be given a pass. The people of the 21st century can not...

Mertazord
Mertazord

@hkhodges We are all responsible for the suffering we inflict. Another example of this is poverty; yeah, the poor are more likely to commit robberies and mug away, but individually they're all responsible for their actions regardless of the socioeconomic factors that might have influenced them.

Complutensian
Complutensian like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

@hkhodges I am sympathic to your argument, but it falls flat. It objectifies the past in a way that glosses over any possible moral evil. I surely can blame them for being ignorant and racist, and inflicting suffering upon those disempowered by the social structures around them. The fact that there were moral arguments made against the exploitation or abuse of other humans (race, culture, or gender) is testimony against the "ignorance" of the day. I certainly understand how we can sympathize with ignorance, but it does not give those perpetrators a pass. It didn't take an abolitionist or suffragist to know that certain constructs of their day were evil or morally problematic. There is plenty of source material from novelists and religious figures to reference, but at the very base, people know when they are being treated as inferior or lesser than human, and while they know it's wrong

JerrySchlezinger
JerrySchlezinger

I hope Travis visits his great great grandmother's grave.

LisaRoseFerrara
LisaRoseFerrara like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Hope Theodore Lent is rotting in hell right now. Exploiting a human being like that not only in life, but in death, is beyond disgraceful. 

URLNTS
URLNTS like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

It is amazing to look at the bigotry,racism,hate and truly,stupid,childish,uninformed, inhuman behavior in our past,until you see that it continues to this day with many on the Right!( some right here on this site)

blahblah482
blahblah482

This is really why we need tighter boarder control in the south- to keep ppl like this from getting in here

hmmm
hmmm like.author.displayName 1 Like

@blahblah482 Its Border. Maybe it is a good idea to learn to spell before talking of "ppl like this"... haha


DougHiley
DougHiley like.author.displayName 1 Like

I swear she looks like my ex mother in law?? 

brett.delong
brett.delong like.author.displayName 1 Like

She reminds me of Michelle Obama.

RainaMorgan
RainaMorgan like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 8 Like

How sad you are.

URLNTS
URLNTS like.author.displayName 1 Like

@RainaMorganThey are worse than sad Raina,in every way that really counts... they are truly the ugly ones!



This comment has been deleted

rhesus303
rhesus303 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 5 Like

Correction: "The aggression and cruelty of CAUCASIAN humankind"

fuzzybat
fuzzybat like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

@rhesus303 Nice racism, bro. Now maybe you'd like to explain the Rwandan genocide. 

AnneMcNair
AnneMcNair like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 4 Like

@fuzzybat He's not being racist. He's being honest.

As for your comment on the Rwandan genocide, it doesn't help your case. In fact - it just proves @rhesus' point. 

Racism is racism, and trying to deflect the attention on to someone else's act of racism doesn't detract from your own.

A simple example: If you rob a bank, you can't tell the judge, 'Well my neighbor robbed a bank, so that doesn't make what I did so bad". Wrong. Both actions are equally as bad. 

What Caucasian humankind has done to other races is just as bad (if not worse, from a number's perspective) than what has happened in Rwanda.

You didn't help your case by bringing up another example of groups responsible for countless atrocities and genocide. In fact, you made it worse, by showing the kind of people whose actions align with those of Caucasians historically.

GiovanniCampanella
GiovanniCampanella like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

@AnneMcNair @fuzzybat : Yes he is, by unnecessarily pointing out a specific race when it is utterly nonsensical to the fact that initiating force and cruelty is wrong. It's like saying 'black rape' is wrong - it only confuses the issue. By saying 'Caucasian' cruelty, you perpetuate racism by invoking this tragedy as some sort of side effect of a particular race. That's racism in itself.

Fuzzybot didn't bring up a specific race to point out what one race does, he brought up a specific race to show that all races commit horrors.

bsl103158
bsl103158 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 4 Like

@AnneMcNair @fuzzybat  (and here's for rhesus303, too.)  I stand amazed that people continue to churn out this concept , when so much is available documenting atrocities and enslavement amongst ALL ethnic backgrounds and "races," which were entrenched LIFESTYLES and went on for CENTURIES without any contact with "whites" at all. Sin and shame and wrong has been perpetrated by ALL peoples throughout history. Grow up, and do some  realistic research, PLEASE?for heaven's sake!

leila
leila like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 6 Like

May she rest in peace. It is so unfortunate to see how cruel humankind can be.

nannyw
nannyw like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 6 Like

@leila Isn't it amazing that the woman suffered so much humiliation and cruelty while she was alive and recently dead, and that a caring soul would show such concern for her dignity so long after she died. Amazing person is Laura Anderson Barbata! 

popcornmaltese
popcornmaltese like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

People still don't realize that it's themselves they disgrace and shame by mocking this fellow human beings. How sad that the obsession with youth, body shape, facial symmetry, ostentatious clothing etc. continue to make so many people unhappy during their precious lives.

PeterBobClampett
PeterBobClampett like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

I thought birther Oily Taits was still alive? She died 153 years ago? Is she using the identity of a dead person?