Who is the missing link? Professor’s lecture focuses on star of Victorian freak shows

By By Ana Breton

By Ana Breton

People used to believe Krao, a 7-year-old Laotian girl, was the “missing link” in human evolution. In reality, though, she suffered from hypertrichosia, a condition that caused her entire body to grow thick black hair.

As a part of the weekly Food for Thought lunchtime series in the Women’s Resource Center, Nadja Durbach, an associate professor in history, spoke Sept. 27 about how Krao was misunderstood during the late 19th century.

Krao was exhibited in London as part of Barnum and Bailey’s “freak show” from 1883 until her death in 1926.

“A lot of people used to be fascinated by freak shows in the Victorian Era,” Durbach said. “Back then, people didn’t know this was a medical condition.”

Durbach thinks people assumed Krao was the “missing link” because they usually linked the idea of a hairy body with an animal figure.

In her presentation, Durbach showed slides of cartoons that illustrated Krao as a female monkey rather than the educated young girl she was. Accounts of her 1883 exhibitions show that debates about whether Krao was more monkey than human were common.

“I think the pictures were the most interesting thing,” said Cari Morphet, practicum counselor for the Women’s Resource Center.

When people hear about someone in a freak show, they usually think of something extreme, she said.

“But seeing pictures of Krao made me realize how normal this girl really was,” Morphet said.

Krao was a well-educated girl who spoke several languages, Durbach said.

“People’s view of Krao had to do with Evolution as much as it had to do with the common norm at the time,” said Julie Goudie-Nice, also a practicum counselor for the center. Durbach’s lecture was a preview for the book she is currently writing.

The center’s lunchtime series takes place in the Women’s Resource Center every Tuesday at noon.

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