Ann E. Leak Born Without Arms

Courtesy of the collection of Steven Bolin
Ann E. Leak was born in Georgia on December 23, 1839, and in spite of a prediction by her mother’s physician that she would die within a few days, survived, remaining sickly throughout childhood.

Born without arms, Ann was fortunate to have a family with money and was not exploited at an early age. While behind other’s her age in learning to walk she eventually learned to use her feet as most use their hands. She became so adept at using her feet she could skillfully sew and braid hair.

But like many, Miss Leak’s family lost their money and livelihood during the Civil War. Her brother died in the war and as the only surviving child, the responsibility of providing financially for her family fell to her. For a while she gave classes in braiding, but the money wasn’t enough to support both her and her parents, so she, reluctantly at first, chose to exhibit her skills in other ways.

Ann’s first gig was at Barnum’s American Museum, something that she found difficult. But she accepted this way of life,

Only the conviction that it seemed best reconciled me to it. My lot was not one of my own choosing, but such as Providence had assigned me, and my feet seemed to be directed in the path that I was about to tread. It is the doom of man that his sky should never be altogether without clouds.1

Courtesy of the collection of Steven Bolin
She traveled around the eastern United States under the name Ann E. Leak Born Without Arms and while being taken advantage of a few times, for the most part, those she met in her travels treated her very well. She eventually married and traveled under the name Ann Leak Thompson. As many 19th century sideshow performers, Ann autographed the carte de visite and cabinet cards she sold at her shows. Her autographs frequently say, “This is a specimen of toe writing.”

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