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Olympia (Betty Lou Williams)

"Olympia (Betty Lou Williams)" is copyright    1999 by James G. Mundie. All rights reserved.  Reproduction prohibited.

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 both.

Betty Lou's first pitchcard from her appearance with Ripley's Odditorium may be seen here.

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All Images and Text James G. Mundie 2003 - 2018