Mrs. Tom Thumb: Lavinia Warren

On a whim, I chose to borrow the ebook The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by  Melanie Benjamin.  I’m only a third of the way into the book, but it’s already given me lots to ponder.

Imagine being an adult who is 32 inches tall.  Imagine the world from that height: legs and shoes and the bottoms of furniture.  Consider the obstacles you would encounter, such simple things as getting into a chair, or opening a door.  Children at that height are dependent and usually there is a bigger person around to assist them.  An adult of that size, however, would wish to be as independent as possible, as did Lavinia Warren.

Born Mercy Lavinia Warren Bump in 1842, she was a “proportionate dwarf,” a true “little lady.”  She began her life’s journey in Middleborough, Massachusetts, the daughter of a farming family descended from Mayflower ancestors.  She had two older brothers and one older sister, all normal-sized.  Her younger sister, Minnie, was also a proportionate dwarf, and even smaller than Lavinia.

Lavinia pushed back against the protective environment at home and went to the local school where she excelled.  She became the teacher of the primary class and managed her position and the students well.  But Lavinia wished to experience the wider world.  She joined a circus-like showboat company that motored up and down the Mississippi.  Here she got plenty of exposure to the rougher side of performing life. 

When the Civil War put an end to the showboat tours, Lavinia went back home where she soon became bored.  She wrote a letter introducing herself to P.T. Barnum, whose famous American Museum in New York City featured another proportionate dwarf, General Tom Thumb.

Barnum happily signed Lavinia to perform at the American Museum.  She toured the United States.  She married Charles Stratton (General Tom Thumb) in a spectacular wedding attended by the elite of New York City (Astors, Belmonts).  Her sister joined the company.  When the transcontinental railroad was completed, they embarked on a world tour for three years.

And that’s as far as I’ve gotten in the book, so I suggest you get a copy if you’re interested in learning more about this ambitious and interesting woman.

The Karakesh Chronicles

Available from


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s