Real name Saartjie "Sara" Baartman. Born 1789 in South Africa to the indigenous Khoi Khoi tribe, Sara was taken to London in 1810 and exhibited naked in a freak show type atmosphere to European spectators who paid to see her large breasts and behind. Dubbed the "Hottentot Venus" by the English media, she was regarded as an anthropological curiosity. The show was an incredible success and Sara was eventually exhibited in France as well. Fashion historians claim that Sara's ample behind was the inspiration for the bustle, a wire frame or fabric pouffe worn under the back of a woman's skirt to add fullness.
One contemporary description of her show in Piccadilly drew a vidid picture of the spectacle. It read that Sara was made to parade nude along a "stage two feet high... which she was led by her "keeper" and exhibited like a wild beast, being obliged to walk, stand or sit as he ordered". (Weekly Mail & Gardian, 1995)
Not much is known about the circumstances surrounding Sara's decision to go to London, but many speculate that she was promised riches to take part in the exhibition. Not all Europeans were so callous as to accept the inhumanity of exhibiting a human being as an animal. This was all happening during the height of the anti-slavery movement in London. A movement was started to have the exhibition closed but it failed after papers were presented indicating that Sara herself was a willing participant. Historian Percival Kirby, who studied the life of Sara, believes she never saw the document.
After four years in Europe, she was taken to France and exhibited in much the same fashion for "high society" types. Although France was known for its enlightened thinking, she was still regarded as the missing link, a comic play ("Hatred to French Women") was written about her and her body was "analyzed" by scientists and pseudo-scientists. Sara, by now an alcoholic, was either forced into, or turned to, prostitution and a year later in 1815, she died of syphilis.
Her remains were not permitted burial and were given to Napoleon's physician. He made plaster casts of her genitals and cut out her brain and skeleton. Today Sara's brain, genitals and skeleton are preserved in a back room at the Musee de l'Homme in Paris (Museum of Mankind). There is a considerable movement to have Sara's remains returned to her homeland in South Africa but so far museum officials refuse to give them up.
Editors Note: According to Wiki, "Her remains were repatriated to her homeland, the Gamtoos Valley, on 6 May 2002 and they were buried on 9 August 2002 on Vergaderingskop, a hill in the town of Hankey over 200 years after her birth."