Julia Pastrana Online presents historical documents (newspaper advertisements, marriage records, pamphlets, etc.) related to the life of Julia Pastrana (1834-1860), who once performed in the U.S. and all over Europe. These documents are especially important since so much misinformation exists about Pastrana. In the past, scholars have relied on promotional materials created to foster interest in attending her performances. Continued repetition of these sensationalist stories perpetuates the oppression that Pastrana encountered throughout her short life.
Not much is known about Pastrana, an indigenous woman from Mexico. News stories exist that suggest Pastrana performed in Guadalajara before emigrating to the United States. Pastrana spoke several languages, danced, and sang, however, the majority of people came to see her because of her physical appearance: she suffered from hypertrichosis. She was sometimes advertised as “The Bear Woman” or “The Ugliest Woman in the World.” Nevertheless, frequently those who saw her perform described her amiability and intelligence. Pastrana also had a life kept secret from her audience. Although she sang songs about wanting to be loved and fearing that she would always be alone, secretly Pastrana was married to her manager, Theodore Lent. She became pregnant with their son but died during childbirth. Sadly, her son died as well.
Much of the interest in Pastrana stems from what happened after her death. Pastrana’s husband arranged to have her body and that of their son embalmed--their bodies continued to be displayed into the 1970’s. After being stored in a basement of a hospital in Oslo, Norway, her body was finally returned to her homeland, Sinaloa, Mexico, due to the efforts of artist Laura Anderson Barbata. Pastrana was buried February 12, 2013.
Over the 160 years since Pastrana’s death, academics, writers, doctors, playwrights, musicians, artists, and fans have written about and created art in her memory. Pastrana’s story has inspired the sympathy and interest of many. This website focuses on Pastrana's life, presenting documents related to her performances, her marriage, and her travels in the U.S. and Europe. Rather than accepting the account of her life given in promotional brochures, Julia Pastrana Online works to provide documentation that researchers and artists can use as the basis for further literary, artistic, and critical production.
Dr. Kathleen Godfrey, the Associate Dean in the College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences at California State University, Monterey Bay, is the producer of this website. Julia Pastrana Online is her first digital humanities project.
Suggested Bibliographic Format:
MLA: Godfrey, Kathleen. Julia Pastrana Online. 2020. www.juliapastranaonline. Accessed [day month year].
APA: Godfrey, Kathleen. (2020). Julia Pastrana Online. Retrieved from http://juliapastranaonline.com.