Milroy’s disease is a defect that is present at birth, often first experienced during childhood. The most common of issues is the swelling of a leg, which could progress and actually affect both legs. To put it bluntly, your legs expand with excess fluid caused by the lack of normal drainage of lymph. Combined with the hypertrophy of soft tissue, the affected limb can swell to nearly three times the normal size. Milroy’s disease is most commonly seen in women.
Now the good stuff:
Fanny Mills, born in 1860, is one of the more infamous cases of Milroy’s disease. Both of Mills’ legs were affected by this dreaded disease, making it difficult to even walk around. However, Mills was able to turn her lack of normal leg circulation into a profiting business: she joined a sideshow and became one of the main acts. Mills was well on her way to utilizing her disease for her own benefit.
With the help of an accompanying nurse, Mary Brown, Mills was able to move around, traveling from city to city. To drum up attention, Mills’ promoters offered $5,000 and a “well-stocked farm” to any man willing to marry Fanny Mills. The promotion was bogus, but Mills did receive numerous marriage proposals, and her sideshow act continued to soar.
No normal shoes would fit to Mills’ gargantuan feet, so shoes had to be specially tailored to her size. Each pair of shoes required three goat skins, with pillowcases acting as socks. Though her feet were clearly not the same size, Mills’s feet were said to measure approximately 19” long and 7” wide. Due to the fact that Mills weighed no more than 115 pounds, the size of her body seems to exaggerate the size of her feet. It’s the same phenomena that happens with Halloween prosthetics.
Mills went on to marry William Brown, the brother of her accompanying nurse. Brown was nearly twenty years older than Mills, but she must have been happy simply to enjoy the company of a romantic partner. The two went on to try for a child, but the only result was a stillborn. At the age of thirty-two, Mills passed away from cancer, without an heir to live on her bloodline.