Ann E. Leak, Born Without Arms
“So You See: It’s Really True.
Where Hands are Lacking; Toes Will Do.”
— slogan embroidered on a pillow by Ann E. Leak
Today is the birthday of Ann E. Leak (b. 1839). The daughter of a well-to-do Georgia farmer, she had the benefit of a good education and was raised to possess all the necessary skills common to Southern ladies of her time. She could play piano, braid hair, sew, crochet and embroider. The remarkable aspect is that since she was born without arms, she did all these things with her feet. In 1871 she wrote her autobiography (she also wrote with her feet) so we know something about her entry into show business.
The family was hard hit by the Civil War; only financial hardship drove her to accepting employment at P.T. Barnum’s American Museum in the 1860s. A highly religious and proud woman, it pained her to have to take the step. She later traveled with Cooper & Bailey, and Barnum and Bailey Shows, and went as far as Australia during the years 1876-1878. She married steamship engineer William Thompson. I haven’t yet found a year for her passing, although there is a photo of her online dated 1900. She looks older (which makes the date plausible) and for some reason she is holding a pair of scissors in her feet.
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.