Olympia (Betty Lou Williams)
Pen and ink, 7.25 x 8 inches, 1999
Betty Lou Williams was a lovely and shapely woman who just happened
to have the body of a misshapen parasitic twin attached to her
side. When out in public, Betty Lou would wear a large maternity garment to cover her twin; but she would often appear on stage in
some sort of revealing costume.
Betty Lou was born Lillie B. Williams to a poor family in Albany, Georgia, on 10 January 1932.
At the age of two, she was already earning $250 a week when she debuted in Robert Ripley's first
"Believe-It-Or-Not" Odditorium at the 1934 World's Fair in Chicago (more information about which may be
seen here). Betty Lou would earn enough money during her career to buy a large homestead for her parents and send all
twelve of her siblings to college. Betty Lou Williams, a physically different African-American woman working during the height of the
Great Depression and the Jim Crow era, presents perhaps the best example of how sideshow could help an individual triumph over
ableism, misogyny, and racism.
Despite doctors' predictions that Betty Lou would would live a long and healthy life, she died in 1955 due to complications following an asthma attack.
Betty Lou's unswerving gaze and coquettish smile put me in mind
of Manet's proud Olympia, so here I pay honor to them
Betty Lou's first pitchcard from her appearance with Ripley's Odditorium may be seen here.
All Images and Text © James G. Mundie 2003 - 2018