Shortly after she was born in Virginia on July 14, 1865, the hirsute Annie Jones began her career in exhibition. Purportedly born with a chin covered in fine hair, Annie’s average parents were originally horrified by her appearance. It wasn’t long, however, before the monetary benefits of their prodigious daughter dawn on the Jones family and word of her unique appearance came to the attention of elite showman P. T. Barnum.
When she was little more than a year in age, Annie was brought to New York City to be featured in Barnum’s museum as ‘The Infant Esau’. The name ‘Esau’ was often applied to hirsute wonders and was in reference to the biblical grandson of Abraham, brother of Jacob. Esau’s name in Hebrew means ‘hairy’, and, according to Genesis 25:25, it is a reference to his hairiness at birth.
After an initial short but highly successful run, Barnum offered Annie’s mother a three year contract, allotting Annie a weekly salary of $150 a week. Mrs. Jones accepted the offer, which was exorbitant for the era, and took up permanent residence with her daughter in New York. However, within the first year of the contract, a family emergency called Mrs. Jones back to Virginia and she left Annie in the care of a Barnum appointed Nanny. During this time, Annie was kidnapped by a local phrenologist who attempted to exhibit Anne privately. Luckily Annie was soon located in upstate New York, the kidnapper dealt with and Annie was quickly back in the custody of Mrs. Jones – who forevermore stayed in close proximity to her daughter during her career.
Annie’s career spanned thirty-six years.
During her long career Jones traveled not only with Barnum’s Greatest Show on Earth, but also worked numerous dime museums. Annie’s stage name changed to reflect her age during her career. She was known as the Esau Child and later the Esau Lady and visually not only did Annie sport a full and long beard, she also grew out the hair on her head to over six feet in length. Annie also expanded her talents as well, as she was not content to simply be stared at. She came to be known for her musical skills and gracious etiquette as much as her facial hair.
At sixteen, Jones married Richard Elliot – a professional sideshow bally talker. The marriage lasted fifteen years before the couple divorced. Jones then married another talker, William Donovan. Together, the newlyweds struck out on their own and toured Europe with Annie as an independent feature attraction and William as a vocal agent. Unfortunately the marriage was short as William died without warning. Annie, not knowing what else to do, quickly rejoined Barnum’s Greatest Show on Earth.
In 1902, Annie fell ill and while visiting her mother in Brooklyn and on October 22 she passed away at age thirty-seven.
Annie Jones was the most celebrated Bearded Lady of her era.