Grace McDaniels

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


Grace McDaniels (March 14 1888 – March 17 1958) had an extremely severe deformity that gave her grotesque facial features. In 1935, she won “The Ugliest Woman” contest, which lead her to a lucrative career with the Harry Lewiston’s Traveling Circus. McDaniels was known as “The Ugliest Woman in the World,” and the “Mule-Faced Woman.”

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A Severe Facial Deformity

CT scan showing the brain of a 20 month old child with Sturge–Weber syndrome.

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

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.

Other symptoms include:

  • Glaucoma
  • Learning Disabilities
  • Mental retardation
  • Attention deficit-hyperactivity disorder
  • Paralysis
  • Headache
  • Seizures
Sturge-Weber syndrome

An infant with Sturge-Weber syndrome

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.

The Early Years & Personal Life

McDaniels was born in 1888 on a farm near a small town in Iowa. As a young child, her condition made it difficult to speak. It took years for McDaniels to learn how to speak fluently. Luckily for her parents, they had no facial deformities.

McDaniels was constantly ridiculed for her unusual appearance. Understandably, she wanted to search for ways to help hide the many imperfections on her face. She used makeup, and as the size of the port-wine stain increased, she eventually wore a veil to help cover as much as possible.

McDaniels Gets Married And Has A Son

Grace McDaniels son Elmer

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 turned emotionally and physically abusive, and even stole from his mother.

Who Was Elmer’s Father?

There is very little information on who Elmer’s father actually was. Perhaps he was Grace McDaniels’s ex husband. Some sources say she had a one-night stand, and was impregnated by a drunk carnival handyman named “Johnny.”

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. 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.

Harry Lewiston’s Traveling Circus

An actual newspaper ad placed by Harry Lewiston.

The Ugliest Woman in the World

McDaniels didn’t like her first billing as “The Ugliest Woman in the World.” She was later able to talk promoters into changing her nickname to “The Mule-Faced Woman,” which is what she is known by today.

McDaniels had a successful and long career of over twenty years.

Why Are There Very Few Photos Of McDaniels?

McDaniels believed that advertising herself would show a lack of self-respect.

Although she 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 behind other sideshow stars.

Freak Show Performers Including McDaniels


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

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 a 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 thousands of curious people for decades.

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About Joseph Caltabiano

Joseph Caltabiano is a writer, 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.