Ella Harper, also known as The Camel Girl, was born with a rare condition that caused her knees to bend backward. Because of this condition, she had to walk on all fours, earning her the nickname “Camel Girl.” Though it was difficult at first, she soon made a fortune out of it.

Ella Harper

The rear of Ella Harper’s pitch card that would be given to spectators later read:

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. 

Born on January 5, 1870, Ella Harper had an extremely rare orthopedic condition called congenital genu recuvatum, which translates to “curved knee.”

Why is Ella Harper called the “Camel Girl”?

Ella’s father, William Harper, was a farmer, and her mother, Minerva Ann Childress, was a housewife. Ella had four siblings, but none of them had the same disability as her. She also had a twin brother, who died within a month of her birth, whereas Ella lived despite her deformity and made a living from it.

Ella started working in the small-time “freak show” circuit when she was 12 years old, and she soon found herself on circus stages from St. Louis to New Orleans.

W.H. Harris, the showman, was eager to include the most diverse roaster of freaks available, and after learning about Ella Harper. He offered her a sizable salary to come and work for him on a contract basis. Harris’ circus already featured lion tamers and acrobats atop galloping horses.

Ella was the star of W.H. Harris’ Nickel Plate Circus by 1886, where she was frequently accompanied by a camel when presented to audiences, and she was a feature in the newspapers of every town the circus visited.

Ella rose to prominence in Harris’ Nickel Plate Circus, where she earned a weekly wage of $200, which opened many doors for her. It enabled her to find a new home while continuing to pursue her lucrative career.

Her career, on the other hand, regularly humiliated her; in addition to the moniker “Camel Girl,” she was thrust on stage with an actual camel, and paying viewers were invited to marvel at the similarities.

Ella was described in newspapers as “the most wonderful freak of nature since the creation of the world.” The newspaper went on to say that Harper was nothing more than a pleasant-faced young woman with knees that turned backward rather than forward.

Ella Harper’s life after the circus

Ella enjoyed her time in the circus, but she was adamant when she said, “I intend to leave the show business to go to school and fit myself for another occupation.”

It is assumed that she went to school and returned to her childhood home soon after leaving the freak show circus. Tragedy seemed to follow her everywhere she went. Harper’s father was killed in a house fire around the year 1890, and her brother Willie died five years later.

Meanwhile, Ella married Robert L. Savely on June 28, 1905. Robert was a schoolteacher who later worked as a bookkeeper for a photo supplies company. Ella and her husband were living in Nashville, Tennessee with Ella’s mother, according to the 1910 Census.

35-year-old Ella Harper gave birth to a girl named Mabel Evans Savely on April 27 the following year. But, unfortunately, the joy was short-lived, as Mabel died at only 6 months old on October 1, 1906. After the death of their child, Ella and Robert adopted a 3-month-old child, but unfortunately, the child passed away only 18 days later.

On 19th December 1921, Ella Harper followed her young children into the grave and died of colon cancer in Nashville, Tennessee.

Now that you’ve read about Ella Harper, the camel girl read about Grady Stiles Jr. The Freak Show performer who turned into a killer Lobster Boy. You might also like reading about Frank Lentini, the man with three legs, 16 fingers, and two penises.