It’s entirely possible that we will someday to do a post on contemporary Scottish actress Rose Leslie of Game of Thrones and The Good Fight, but first things first, and today is not the day. The original Rose Leslie (1861-1886) was a professional circus “fat woman”. Weighing 615 lbs, with a height of 5’3″, Leslie is best known today for having been photographed at Charles Eisenmann’s Bowery studio in 1881. Shortly after her sessions she got a job performing with John B. Doris’ Great Inter-Ocean Museum, Menagerie and Circus, where she married fellow performer John McLaughlin.
In 1886 Leslie is said to have attended a “Fat Woman’s Convention” and come down with pneumonia. This was not a professional networking event! There was a vogue at the time for Dime Museums to convene all of the working Fat Ladies (or as many as they could attract) and sell tickets to the spectacle. There weren’t thousands or even hundreds of such women to invite — perhaps a couple of dozen would show up, which would still be quite a thing to see. These kind of events were held all of the country — I’ve seen references to them in Chicago, Baltimore and Philadelphia. The effect would not be dissimilar from the numerous Lilliputian Opera Companies and Midget Cities that were shown in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The fact that Leslie’s attendance at this one is universally pointed to as the source of her pneumonia leads me to suspect that it was held outdoors. She was in Lowell, Massachusetts at the time of her death.
For similar lore please check out our new book Rose’s Royal Midgets and Other Little People in Vaudeville.