Cassie and Victoria Foster, The Fairy Sisters : Smallest Persons in the World
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This lithographed broadside depicts Cassie and Victoria Foster, known during their careers as the Fairy Sisters. In an era when displaying "human curiosities" earned fortunes for showmen like P. T. Barnum, the girls toured the East Coast in 1872 and 1873, earning accolades for their diminutive size.
Catherine (Cassie) and Victoria Foster were two of eleven children born to Thomas Henry Foster and Elizabeth Ann (Chute) in the town of Hampton, Nova Scotia. Exceptionally small at birth (various reports record their birth weights at between one and two and a half pounds), the girls would have an outsize influence on the cultural scene in the early 1870s. The first public notice of the girls, born seven years apart, appeared in the Saint John Telegram (New Brunswick) in June of 1872 and read, in part,
They are supposed to be the smallest specimens of humanity, according to their age, in the country. Cassie, the eldest, is seven years old and weighs only twelve pounds. The other is fourteen months old, and weighs only six pounds … They are perfect in form and feature and look like little dolls. Their parents are of medium size, who have several other children of ordinary size … It is the intention of their parents to exhibit them on their return from Bridgewater, wither they have gone to visit friends.
By December of that year, the girls had begun their touring career in Boston at the Tremont Temple. Displayed onstage in variety of outfits and tableaux, the girls were usually joined at their appearances by musical acts, including pianist Henry Stevens of Boston and the acclaimed Deuel Family. Parents Thomas and Elizabeth Foster also appeared on stage at the end of each performance. By the end of November, the girls had appeared at halls in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, Pennsylvania, Indiana, and Utah, where they met Brigham Young himself. It was said in the press that popular performers like "Tom Thumb, Admiral Dot and Commodore Nutt must hold their heads in shame to think that they are outdone by such little midgets." In fact, Commodore Nutt visited with the girls in the summer of 1872 and was left "fairly speechless with astonishment."
Unfortunately, the career of the Fairy Sisters was to be a brief one. Victoria succumbed to meningitis in November of 1874 at the age of 3½; Cassie died at the age of 11 in October of 1875 of erysipelas, a bacterial skin infection also known as "St. Anthony's Fire." They were buried together under one stone in the Hampton Cemetery in their hometown.
All in the Family
After the deaths of Cassie and Victoria, Thomas and Elizabeth Foster returned to Nova Scotia, where they had at least three more children, one of whom, Dudley, born in August of 1877, was also a little person. Having met with such financial success in exhibiting Cassie and Victoria, Thomas and Elizabeth again hit the road with Dudley. From the age of two, Dudley was on the exhibition circuit, an endeavor which would last the remainder of his life. In his seventeen years, he met Queen Victoria, had a rumored "love affair" (at the age of five!) with the renowned opera star Adeline Patti, and traveled to London with the Barnum and Bailey Circus. Dudley, known professionally as "Hop-o'-My-Thumb," "Prince Tiny Mite," and "The Nova Scotian," had a brief, but eventful life, culminating in his death from heart disease in June of 1894. He is buried in Hampton, Nova Scotia, along with his sisters and other family members.
For Further Reading
Dudley Foster: The Smallest Human Being in Existence, a History of his Life [New York: Benedict Popular Publishing Co., 1889?]
Staples, Barbara. The Smallest of the Fosters (Lynn: Flemming Press, 2008)