GRACE GILBERT – The Redheaded Bearded Lady

Grace-Gilbert bearded lady

The redheaded Grace Hester Gilbert was born on February 2nd in 1876 on a small farm near Nettle Lake, Ohio. She was the youngest of four children and the only one in the family to be born covered in a layer of silken hair. By the time she was 18 she was being exhibited full-time as a bearded lady.

She signed her first contract with Ringling Bros. Circus in 1901. At the time her beard measured more than 18 inches in length, which was several inches longer than her closest rival and longer than the known record. Before long, Barnum and Baily stole Grace Gilbert away from Ringling Bros to replace the deceased Annie Jones and the arrangement proved to be lucrative.

Although she was a redhead, Grace was known to bleach her beard. She was known briefly as “The Girl With the Golden Whiskers” but the effort to maintain the look proved to be a hassle and she soon reverted to her natural shade. Grace also exhibited with the McCaddon circus as well as the Hagenback-Wallace Circus and also toured England and France.

Grace was a sturdy farm girl. Her physique was far from feminine and as she helped assemble circus tents, run rigging and worked grueling manual jobs her true sex was often questioned. She did, however, still have admirers. 53-year-old Giles Calvin was one of the men who courted Grace. Grace and Giles had been sweethearts when Grace was a young girl and, as Mr. Calvin was a recent widow, Grace couldn’t help but develop tender and sentimental feelings. They were married in 1910 in Indiana. According to legend, the judge actually confused the groom and the bride during the service. This mix up didn’t help stifle the rumors that Grace wasn’t a woman. When it was revealed that Grace and Giles Calvin were cousins, something not unheard of at the time, many people insinuated that the marriage was one of convenience and for promotional purposes. Fed up with the rampant speculation, Grace announced her retirement soon after the wedding.

Of course, farm life is rough when compared to the fortune exhibition can bring and by 1916 Grace was again exhibiting in Coney Island.

Shortly after returning home for the season in January of 1924, Grace suddenly fell ill. Her husband was out of town at the time and Grace sought aid from her neighbors. She complained of “throat pain’ but her condition quickly grew much more serious. Within just a few hours Grace Gilbert – The Bearded Lady – was dead.

Grace was put to rest in what is now known as Maple Grove Cemetery. She was put to rest near her parents and a few years later her beloved husband joined her.


  • Reply August 13, 2012


    Wow…I didn’t even know that the story of the Bearded lady was true. I always thought it was something they used in movies. I actually saw some show I think it was 20/20 and they had almost ape like people…they had hair on almost 95% of their bodies. This is a crazy world we live in!

  • Reply February 14, 2013

    Aura Fox

    Bring on more!

  • Reply April 5, 2013

    Timothy Christy

    This site is extremely addicting. Blows my mind that some of these people existed on Earth! Thank you for creating this blog!

    • Reply August 30, 2014


      The younger generations were not privileged to meet these “circus freaks”. The ones I met in my youth loved the life and they felt accepted and loved until some so-called do-gooders said that they should not be “exploited” because they were disabled. So they were placed on disability and from the reports I have read, were/are very unhappy and did/do not earn enough money from disability to take care of their needs. Very sad. I am in my mid-fifties and used to go see them at the circus every year. I became very close to several of them. They were/are wonderful people!

  • Reply May 15, 2014


    I happen to be related to Grace Gilbert. I’m afraid the circus’ claim that she helped with the rigging and so forth is untrue. In fact, she loved to sew and helped her fellow performers with their costumes. She was every bit a lady. My great grandmother, when asked if Grace was a man, would say “My mother is a lady and so am I.” Giles and Grace’s union may have been a marriage of convenience but it was never about promoting her career. Grandma Grace still holds a tender place in my family’s heart.

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