Historical Strongwomen

Fellow author and lovely person, Michelle Osgood (author of Better To Kiss You With) requested a further look into my archival research about historical Strongwoman. I couldn’t decide which one of these awesome women to focus on, so…I ended up writing a combination post. Unfortunately, a lot of the early strongwomen suffer a similar fate as a lot of women athletes (a lack of documentation), but here we have some of the gleanings I used in my research. So many of them would make fascinating studies for books all their own. I’m certainly considering it. To say otherwise would be a lie.

 

Minerva

Josephine Blatt (née Schauer) (1863 – 1923)

JosephineBlatt-PoliceGazette.jpg“Having been informed that Victorina, the female heavy-weight lifter, is eager to compete in feats of strength with any woman in the world, I hereby challenge her to arrange a match to lift heavy-weights and catch cannonballs from 10 pounds to 50 pounds for $500 to $1000 a side and the female heavy-weight-lifting championship of the world.”

-Letter signed Josie Wohlford, National Police Gazette. 3/28/18911

Precious little is known about the specifics of her early life.  Much of what exists in secondary sources is not officially confirm-able (though Jan Todd’s excellent essays in Iron Game History gave me far more insight into her life than I had imagined possible. )

Though contradicted in her public biography (which is the case with many early performers), Minerva was likely born in New Jersey and joined the American vaudeville and circus circuit in the 1890s as strength acts were beginning to take hold as an audience draw. (Also like many performers of the era, there is evidence to suggest that she used her talents as a means of escaping an unsatisfying marriage.) For many years she was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records  as having lifted the greatest amount of weight for a woman: 3,564 lb with a hip and harness lift at the Bijou Theatre, Hoboken, N.J., on April 15, 1895. (1895 reports indicate that this weight was closer to 3000 lbs than 3564, but hey, that’s still a feat!)

 

Vulcana

Kate Williams (1875 – 1946)

Vulcana1900.jpg

A Welsh strongwoman known for her combination of femininity, strength, and the use of her talents to perform heroics. Perhaps the real first superhero, Vulcana is credited (among other tales) with stopping a runaway horse in Bristol in 1888, rescuing two children from drowning in the River Usk in 1901, and rescuing another performer’s horses during a fire at the Garrick Theatre in Edinburgh in 1921.  She and her long-time love interest, Atlas Roberts, formed the Atlas and Vulcana Society of Athletes in which their children often performed as well. Though the society was charged a few times with exaggerating their lifting abilities, Vulcana’s feats were truly spectacular even so. She was authenticated as bent pressing 124½ lbs with her right hand  and an overhead lift with a 56 lb weight in each hand.

 

Charmion

Laverie Vallee (née Cooper) (1875 – 1949)

Charmion 1897.jpgThough most of my research into Charmion ended up more inspiring Della and the other burlesque girls than Suprema, she was one of the many performers who considered themselves both strongwomen and acrobats. This is not surprising. Acrobatic and gymnastic talents require incredible strength that the viewing public does not always consider.

Charmion was born in Sacramento, California and made a name for herself with her controversial trapeze disrobing act.

 

Kati Sandwina

Katharina Heymann (née Brumbach) (1884 – 1952)

Katie Sandwina (the Lady Hercules).jpgBorn in Vienna and one of 16 children, Kate began performing in her family’s circus at the age of 2. After earning herself the title of “Europe’s Queen of Strength, Beauty, and Dexterity” she traveled to the United States and began an illustrious career with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, continuing to perform with them until she was in her 60s.

Her stagename, Sandwina (essentially a feminine version of the name Sandow), came from that of famous strongman Eugene Sandow who she defeated in a contest of strength. She was especially known for lifting her husband, acrobat Max Heymann, bending steel bars, and resisting the pull of several horses.

 

Abbye “Pudgy” Stockton

Abbye Eville (1917  – 2006)

Abbye Stockton lifts a barbell as other women look on

“In those days, lifting weights was thought to be unfeminine. The misinformed think if women strength-trained, they’d become masculine looking. We laughed knowing they were wrong.”

-Abbye Stockton as told to Sport’s Illustrated

The original “Queen of Muscle Beach”, Abbye was one of the first “true” professional female body-builders, and was a trailblazer when it came to normalizing the idea of athletic women. Abbye was not part of the circus circuit, but I included her in my research because her work would have had a significant influence on Suprema; she would have been someone that Suprema looked up to.

For 10 years (1944-1954), Abbye wrote a column in the magazine Strength and Health entitled “Barbelles” which discussed women’s fitness in ways that were far from the norm at the time, focusing on strength training rather than simple calisthenics and including profiles of other strongwomen like herself. After her husband Les returned from WWII, he and Abbye founded one of the first women only fitness clubs.

Joan Rhodes

(1921 – 2010)


The strongwoman that Suprema would have been most aware of and probably most want to emulate would have been one who started gaining fame for her performance right when Suprema was beginning her act: Joan Rhodes. Famous for her vaudeville act in which she tore telephone books in half, bent steel bars, and lifted various audience members, she began touring with Bob Hope and appearing on television around 1955. She would later go on to appear in a number of films as a stunt performer and sometimes acting as herself.

These were just a few of the wonderful and amazing strongwomen throughout history and hopefully I will get the chance to feature more of them in the future.

 

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Listening to the Sounds of the Midway [Playlist]

It’s been a month since Sideshow was officially launched and I cannot thank you all enough for the amazing response my little book has received so far. I poured a great deal of my heart into that novel and I’m so glad to see that it has resonated with so many of you as well. For this week’s blog post I’ve put together a little thank you gift.

Mixed tapes used to be one of my favorite ways of expressing myself back in the pre-ipod days. I used to spend hours and hours deciding exactly which songs fit the mood and message I was trying to convey, putting them in exactly the right order, designing the label with my giant set of different colored Sharpie markers, etc before bequeathing it to the intended recipient. Those days are pretty much gone now as most people I know wouldn’t have the means to play a mixed tape/CD, but that doesn’t mean I can’t still gather songs into a playlist and obsess over creating the exact right message with them. So, without further ado, I present to you the playlist I have been obsessing over for the past month: “The Sideshow Soundtrack!”

Can’t It Be Summer Forever?

Rides Galore

I can’t believe it’s already the last official day of the virtual book tour. I had such a good time and got to know some amazing bloggers. I can’t thank them enough for their support and hosting of tour stops. Really it’s been a blast.

It was almost 90 degrees today and as far as I’m concerned summer could last forever! But don’t you fret, I still have plenty of great content to keep us going long after the book tour ends, but in the meantime, check out these great tour stops.

Wicked Faerie’s Tales and Reviews: In which we delve into how I develop my characters and some of my real-life inspirations.

Charley Descoteaux

Making the Jump

One cow, one ferris wheel

I practically missed Labor Day because I was canning ~32 quarts of tomato sauce and salsa, a well over 12 hour endeavor. I’m still not ready to switch over into fall though, so let’s hang onto summer a little longer with a few more book tour stops, shall we?

9/5

Divine Magazine: In which we discuss Abby’s home life and some books that made me think differently about historical fiction as a genre.

Havan Fellows: Fun, rapid fire questions including the show I’m currently binge watching and the 2 biggest crushes I had in the 90s.

9/6

Alpha Book Club: In which we delve into what my goals were for Sideshow and whether or not I think I accomplished them.

Molly Lolly: In which Abby talks music (and a review!)

Ferris Wheel At Sunset

Going Inside the Show Tent

Circus Tent

Two more great tour stops! I am loving this book tour so far, so many great blogs and bloggers.

Foxylutely Book Reviews In which I discuss the unspoken criteria I have for whether or not I call myself a writer.

Bonkers About Books: Tour stop and interview  In which I discuss my book launch celebratory purchase: a dress the color of champagne

A Few New Stops on the Route Card

Christiani Bros. Circus, 1956

Be sure to check out today’s tour stops and remember to enter the giveaways!

Open Skye Book Reviews  In which I discuss my ideal super power and my cats’ future fame

Prism Book Alliance In which I discuss how a day job impacts my writing and apologize for my bad wine habits.

Happily Ever Chapter  In which I delve into writing anxiety and why deadlines are actually the best.

Stopping by the Concession Stands

Image credit: Tom Hart
Image credit: Tom Hart

If you wander through the carnival you’ll end up with some pretty tasty treats, and today we continue Sideshow’s virtual book tour with some delicious stops:

My Fiction Nook: In which I discuss an old LiveJournal group and what makes a good story.

BFD Book Blog: In which we delve into how being an archivist impacts my writing.

 

Funnel Cake & Fried Oreos

And finish off with a carnival food recipe!

How to make a funnel cake!

  1. Gather the following ingredients: 4 cups of flour, 1 tablespoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1 cup brown sugar, 3 eggs, 2 1/4 cups milk, 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract, oil (for frying -I use coconut, but pick your poison), frying pan, squeeze bottle, paper towels, powdered sugar
  2. Mix the dry ingredients in one bowl and the wet ingredients (except oil) in another. Combine slowly and whisk until the batter is smooth.
  3. Fill a clean squeeze bottle with batter and heat oil in a deep frying pan.
  4. When the oil is hot, squeeze batter into the pan. I’m a control freak, so I make an overlapping cross-hatch pattern, but really, go wild!
  5. Allow to fry for a few minutes, until golden brown (this will vary based on oil temperature, kind of oil, kind of stove, etc). Then carefully flip over. Treat this side the same, then remove with a slotted spoon or spatula.
  6. Place on a paper towel covered plate.
  7.  Sprinkle powdered sugar on top before allowing it to cool, just a little.
  8. Eat as soon as you can. Funnel cakes taste best hot.
  9. If you have batter left over, cover candy bars, Oreo cookies, mushrooms, broccoli, cheese, whatever else you have on hand, in it and fry that up in the oil as well for a true carnival experience.

Funnel Cakes