London Life

London Life | 1926

Beautiful Though Limbless

Wonderful example of the art of doing without limbs Some time ago there appeared in these columns an article dealing with the wonderful feats of one-legged dancers and, no doubt, the ordinary and normally equipped individual marvelled at the manner in which the performers mentioned were able to overcome the handicap of a lower lost limb and again fame on the public stage. Especially must he have admired the pluck and endurance of the lady performers whose feats were described and wondered that they ever had the heart to struggle on to success against such odds.

Born without arms

But if so much can be said for one-legged lady performers, what must we think of the wonderful spirit shown by ladies who are deficient of more than one limb and they manage to earn not only a comfortable livelihood but often a small fortune by exhibiting the marvellous manner in which they have overcome their disability. I don't suppose it falls to the lot of many people to be personally acquainted with examples of ladies so handicapped, but it so happens that the present writer, in his younger days was on intimate terms with a very pleasant family, the youngest daughter of which, though quite normal and beautifully formed in other respects, was born without arms. It was, no doubt, because of his friendship with that girl that the writer developed a kindly interest in ladies similarly handicapped, an interest which prompted investigations, some of the results of which are set forth in this article. She was an extremely pretty girl and, as I have already intimated, her figure was on the most pleasing lines. She was entirely without arms, possessing only shoulders, the ends of which protruded only slightly from the trunk and were rounded and smooth without a trace of blemish or scar. It was a curious fact that when one got used to the absence of arms, one noticed the perfect modelling of the shoulders and the idea of deformity seemed ridiculous. There was really no deformity present merely the absence of familiar limbs. From her earliest years the girl had been taught to use her feet and toes in lieu of hands and fingers and, like all per- sons so deficient, she attained a wonderful dexterity and proficiency in the use of these members. She wrote with perfect ease; was a quite admirable artist in black and white and water colour; could dress herself qui- te easily - though, as she always had a maid in attendance, this was unnecessary; sewed and did embroidery; eat and drank; smoked a cigarette (when she cared to do so on the sly as such a practice was not then encouraged!); played the piano and a hundred other things - all with her toes. Her sense of touch was so sensitive that she could pick up a pin or needle from the floor or select a cigarette from a box with absolute precision.

An extraordinary, but quite everyday feat of hers, was her ability to balance perfectly upon one leg while she used the other. I have seen her stand so while she selected books from a book shelf, reaching well above her head with as much ease as if she was using an arm. And another trick of hers, which she did quite unconsciously, was to push loose hairpins more firmly into her hair (bobbed her was not then in general fashion), reaching the back of her head with her toes, without the slightest difficulty. She did this with equal facility either seated or standing! When guests were present, she usually wore a becoming gown that reached to just above the knee, but, unless perfect strangers were among the visitors, she would use her feet and toes as usual. And always she "shook hands" quite simply and naturally when greeting her intimate friends, slipping off her right slipper as she stood and offering her right foot with all the ease and grace imaginable! For the street, of course, she always wore skirts of a normal length, and to all her street gowns and costumes there were attached either unobtrusive capes or cape-sleeves that fell to below the hips and so disguised the absence of arms. She never went out alone, however, but was always accompanied by either her maid or by some member or friend of the family. Personally, I, in common with all her friends, found her a very charming and fascinating girl, and the absence of arms, after a while, was to all intents and purposes quite forgotten.

Wedding ring on her toes

I was present at her wedding, a private ceremony, that took place some years before the war, and must be amongst the very few people who have actually seen a wedding ring placed on a third toe of the brides foot instead of the corresponding finger, and witnessed the signing of the register by the bride with the pen held in her toes.

Twenty clever armless ladies

To the present writer's knowledge there at least twenty ladies deficient of two or more limbs at present on exhibition in Europe and America and it is quite certain that that does not exhaust the supply. America, is of course, the happy hunting ground of "freaks", strange people, etc., as not only does practically everyone of the very many circuses and carnivals touring the States, carry its side shows of "human oddities", but most of the pleasure parks, "beaches", etc., run side shows of a similar character during the season. In Coney Island, perhaps the most famous pleasure resort in the world, there are no fewer than five separate side shows some of which carry as many as twenty to thirty living exhibits each. And it is mainly to America that ladies of the type I have just described eventually migrate, though there are a few still remaining in England and on the Continent.

Accomplished though armless

Among armless ladies at the present in America, Miss Martha Morris now on exhibition at Coney Island, is notable. A pretty brunette of twenty, she was born in Chicago, quite without arms. Despite this handicap she graduated at an American school, and is quite a learned person, speaking several languages. She does everything with her feet and toes, her accomplishments include needlework, writing, drawing and typewriting at which she is quite an adept. Even more remarkable in her way is Miss Fannie Tunison, a much older woman, as she does all her work with her lips and tongue. It may sound incredible but nevertheless remains a fact, that not only she threads a needle using only her lips and tongue, but executes the most elaborate embroidery, by the sale of which to patrons she supplements her earnings. She is also American born.

Learned limbless college girls

Other American armless ladies with circuses touring the States, include Miss Kathyn M. Smith, professionally known as "Oris" and Miss Peggy O'Connor, both of whom use their feet and toes instead of the absent arms and hands, while Miss Martha Hale of California and Miss Minnie May Cook of Texas, young girls still in their teens and both born without arms, are at present attending High School in their respective states, mixing with the normal pupils in a way that would hardly obtain over here.

London Life, August 21, 1926 pp. 8 - 9
London Life | 1926