world's ugliest woman

Grace McDaniels: The Original “World’s Ugliest Woman”


If there was ever an “original” world’s ugliest woman, it is the famous freak show star Grace McDaniels (1888–1958). Unfortunately, her extremely severe facial deformity gave her grotesque facial features, which earned the nickname the “Mule-Faced Woman.” Luckily for McDaniels, her condition also helped her land a successful career as a freak show performer.

A Severe Facial Deformity 

According to many sources on the Web, McDaniels likely suffered from a rare congenital neurocutaneous disorder called Sturge–Weber syndrome (or encephalotrigeminal angiomatosis).

The above image shows a CT scan of the brain of a 20 month old child with the disorder.

Symptoms Of Sturge-Weber Syndrome

A port-wine stain located on the forehead, upper eyelid, or scalp. Near the surface of the skin is an overabundance of dilated capillaries that cause skin discoloration. The facial birthmark can cover the whole face, or just one side of the face. In the case of McDaniels, over time, her condition worsened and left her deformed face with a fold of excess skin that hanged about 4 inches below her chin. Unfortunately, she also had difficulty speaking because of the massive size of the growth.


Learning Disabilities

Mental retardation

Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder



The Early Years & Personal Life 

McDaniels was born in 1888 on a farm near a small town in Iowa. Luckily for her parents, they had no facial deformities. Understandably, McDaniels wanted to search for ways to help hide the many imperfections on her face. She used makeup, and eventually chose to wear a veil.

McDaniels Gets Married And Has A Child

According to Wikipedia, in the 1930s, McDaniels was married for a short time. She eventually had a son who she named Elmer. Fortunately, he didn’t have to suffer from facial abnormalities.

Elmer grew up and became his mother’s business manager. He also became an alcoholic and drug addict. Elmer had also turned emotionally and physically abusive, and even stole from his mother.

Who Was Elmer’s Father?

If you read the information on Wikipedia regarding McDaniels, it seems to point to her ex-husband as being the father of her son Elmer. However, some other sources say she was impregnated by a drunk carnival handyman named “Johnny” from a one-night stand.

The Ugliest Woman Contest

The Ugliest Woman contest

In 1935, McDaniels participated in The Ugliest Woman contest and won. This was the beginning of her road towards major success in the freak show business.

The Beginning Of A Lucrative Career 

Winning The Ugliest Woman contest helped McDaniels get discovered. After winning, she went on to join freak show director Harry Lewiston’s Traveling Circus. She not only traveled around the country, but also in some parts of Canada. As a sideshow performer, McDaniels brought in $175 per week. According to, back in 1950, the value of $175 was $1,753.89.

The Nickname That McDaniels Didn’t Want

McDaniels certainly had a very long and successful career. However, she didn’t like her first billing being “The Ugliest Woman in the World.” She was later able to talk the promoters into changing her nickname to “The Mule-Faced Woman,” which is what she is known by today.

Why Are There Very Few Photos Of McDaniels?

The Mule-Faced Woman screenshot showing Grace with her son Elmer.

Although McDaniels was not afraid to show her face to the world, she didn’t like having her photo taken. If you look at the photo below, you will notice that McDaniels appears to be hiding.

Freak Show Performers Including McDaniels


McDaniels continued touring until her death in 1958. She died of natural causes at her home.

Images Of The World’s Ugliest Woman

Despite being born with a severe facial deformity, McDaniels lived a life that many would consider “normal.” She had an very successful career in the freak show business, a marriage, and even a son. Whether you want to call her “The Ugliest Woman in the World,” or “The Mule-Faced Woman,” Grace McDaniels was an extraordinary entertainer who didn’t let her extreme abnormalities prevent her from entertaining curious people around the country for many years.

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About Joseph Caltabiano

Joseph Caltabiano is a blogger, oddities lover and a former surgical technologist. He left the field of surgical technology to pursue a career in blogging and internet marketing. As clearly shown in his posts, Joseph is very passionate about unusual topics. His two most favorite topics are medical and weird science.