Ella Harper the Camel Girl

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This is a photo of Ella Harper taken sometime between 1885-1886.⁣

This is a photo of Ella Harper taken sometime between 1885-1886.⁣

She had a very rare condition called congenital genu recurvatum, which made her knees bend backwards. As a result, she preferred to walk on all fours.⁣

In 1886, Harper was working as a peformer at a circus. She is said to have earned $200 per week, which is more than $5,500 per week today when adjusted for inflation. Her pitch card (bio cards that circuses would pass out to audience members) stated the following:⁣

"I am called the camel girl because my knees turn backward. I can walk best on my hands and feet as you see me in the picture. I have traveled considerably in the show business for the past four years and now, this is 1886 and I intend to quit the show business and go to school and fit myself for another occupation."⁣

After 4 years of touring she quit the circus and quietly disappeared from the history books.⁣


Curious to know more about her life, I searched her name using Ancestry.com and found some more info. I did find an Ella Harper in Sumner County, Tennessee in the 1880 Census who was marked as disabled. If this was the same Ella, she would have been around 15 or 16 when the photo was taken. I then looked at the 1890 Census, but that proved to be unfruitful as most of it was destroyed in a 1921 fire. So moving on to 1900, she does appear once again with no listed occupation. I also found that she was married in 1905 to a man name Robert L. Savely who was a public school teacher. She apparently gave birth to a child but the records show none living. In the 1910 Census, it states that she was living with her husband and mother in Davidson County, Tennessee. She died in 1921 from colon cancer.

Source: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ella_Harper