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Archive for the ‘women’ Category

KATIE SANDWINA (1884 – 1952) Circus Strongwoman

In American History, Biography, Circus Performers, Female Athletes, Feminists, Vaudeville Acts, women on December 14, 2010 at 10:20 PM

Katie Sandwina

Catherine Brumbach (“Katie”) was born with everything she needed to succeed in life, and she grew to be a beautiful, strong woman, a really strong woman.  Her physical strength and beauty gave her an edge in a man’s world, making her the specimen of perfection. 

Brumbach was the second oldest of 15 children whose parents were circus performers.  Of Bavarian stock, Philippe, who was six feet six inches tall and weighed about 260 pounds with a 56 inch chest, and his wife, Johanna, whose biceps measured 15 inches, amazed European audiences with their feats of strength.  Three daughters inherited the strength and talent of their parents and joined the act very young. 

When she was two, Brumbach reportedly did hand stands on her father’s hands.  She was trained in gymnastics and then added weightlifting to her regime when she hit adolescence.  Brumbach wasn’t the strongest of her siblings, but her strength combined with her perfect proportions and natural beauty made her the main attraction.

JOINING THE FAMILY BUSINESS                      The Brumbach family were contract players in circuses all over Europe, and Brumbach’s star continued to rise.  When she was a teenager, her father offered 100 German marks to any man who would come on stage and beat her at wrestling.  She won every time, and one evening she got a prize she hadn’t expected.  Max Heymann, a five foot six inch acrobat who weighed about 160 pounds, was having a hard time getting his career off the ground.  He saw an opportunity for easy cash and sauntered confidently onto the stage.  Brumbach won the match handily, but he won her heart.  She was 16 and Heymann was 19, and two years later he joined the act permanently when they married.

While touring around Europe, the strongwoman and her fellow performers happened to briefly go to New York.  As a publicity stunt at the end of the act, she challenged anyone who dared to try to lift more weight than she did.  Eugen Sandow, the most famous bodybuilder of the time (click here for the profile of Eugen Sandow) happened to be in the audience.  No publicity manager could have ever conceived of a more perfect attraction.  They matched each other pound for pound until Brumbach lifted a 300 pound bar bell over her head.  As a stunned audience witnessed, Sandow could only raise it to his chest.  Brumbach proudly carried her victory with her everywhere by adopting the moniker “Sandwina,” a female derivative of Sandow.

JUST ANOTHER DAY AT THE OFFICE              Sandwina and Heymann and a couple of other men became “The Sandwinas.”  Early in the 20th century they came to America for a more extended commitment and performed with small vaudeville shows up and down the East coast.  A year later they were hired by the prestigious Orpheum Vaudeville Circuit and toured throughout the country.  Sandwina was billed as “Europe’s Queen of Strength and Beauty.”  She twisted iron bars into spirals and broke chains with her bare hands, juggled cannonballs and supported a 1,200-pound cannon on her shoulders.  She even lay on a bed of nails while volunteers used sledgehammers to hit an anvil balanced on her chest.

In 1909 while on tour with the Orpheum, the Heymanns had a baby, Teddy.  Being pregnant made Sandwina seem more feminine to some people, but she didn’t let it interfere with her career.  She performed two shows the night before her son was born.  This strapping child, who weighed 50 pounds at age two, was nicknamed “Superbaby” by the press.  During interviews, reporters asked Sandwina’s advice on the care and feeding of children so other kids could grow up to be equally robust and strong.

The Sandwinas went back to Europe for a while.  Holding her husband overhead had become a popular feat, and to add to that, for the finale Sandwina lifted three men.  John Ringling, one of the brothers who had recently bought the Barnum & Bailey circus, was on a scouting trip.  He signed Sandwina and Heymann and brought them back to the States in 1911.  They weren’t a featured act but instead had to perform simultaneously with four other strength acts, all competing for attention.  When reporters became curious about Sandwina, a press conference was arranged to move her into the spotlight.

THE PICTURE OF PERFECTION                          P.T. Barnum was once quoted as saying, “Without promotion something terrible happens…Nothing!”1 so meeting the press became an event.  At Madison Square Garden, where they were performing, over a dozen doctors were brought in to weigh and measure Sandwina publicly.  She was deemed to be the perfect female specimen.  She was five feet nine and three quarters inches tall and weighed 210 pounds.  Her chest was 44 inches, her waist was 29 inches, and her hips were 43 inches.  Her calf measured 16 inches and her flexed right bicep was 14 inches.  To enhance her appearance, especially in contrast to her husband, Sandwina always wore two-inch heels and piled her hair on top of her head to make her look taller.  When the measuring was finished Sandwina demonstrated her strength for the reporters.  First she lifted Heymann over her head with one hand, and then she lifted her husband and son, holding them both with only one arm.

For all her bulk, Sandwina was described as beautiful and feminine with supple curves and arms smooth enough to look good in a ball gown.  With her new status in the center ring, Sandwina was earning up to $1,500 a week.  Sandwina represented the perfect woman in many ways.  Besides her physical beauty, strength and charm, she was a working mother.  In 1912 she became the Vice President of the suffrage group at the Barnum & Bailey Circus.  Working with her husband and dominating him in the act made her seem all the more liberated.

In 1918 while the Heymann family was in Istanbul, a second son, Alfred, was born.  The story has been passed down that it happened during some civil unrest and Sandwina had to crawl under barbed wire to get herself to a hospital.  When she arrived, the hospital was full and she gave birth on the floor.

When The Sandwinas retired from the Barnum & Bailey Circus they continued to do what they loved.  For a while in the 1930s they worked with the WPA circus, and then in the 1940s they opened a cafe/bar in Queens, New York.  Occasionally when a customer asked, Sandwina would bend an iron bar or break a horseshoe after serving their drink.

In 1952 Sandwina died of cancer, and after 52 years of marriage, The Sandwinas split up.

QUESTION:  If you could join the circus, what kind of act would you want to do?

 ©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

 Sources:

http://www.starkcenter.org/research/igh/articles/igh10.1.4.pdf

http://thehumanmarvels.com/?p=878

http://www.starkcenter.org/research/igh/articles/igh9.2.4.pdf

http://www.aafla.org/SportsLibrary/IGH/IGH0106/IGH0106d.pdf

http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault/article/magazine/MAG1067134/index.htm

1http://thinkexist.com/quotes/p.t._barnum/

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QIU JIN (1875?—1907) Chinese Feminist

In Biography, Chinese history, Feminists, women on November 18, 2010 at 5:11 PM

Qiu Jin

When she was young, Qiu Jin fantasized about becoming an heroic figure in China.  She studied female historical personalities and aspired to emulate them in her own way.  Unfortunately, the Chinese society that Qiu Jin was born into conflicted with her ideals about women.  But Qiu would not let her spirit, her ambitions or her feet be bound, which ultimately cost her her life.

Being raised in a wealthy family gave Qiu an opportunity to be educated, and while her parents expected her to fulfill her destiny as a woman by becoming a wife and mother, they allowed her some leeway to express her individuality by doing things like sword fighting and riding horses.  

STUCK IN TRADITION                 When she was 19, Qiu’s father arranged for her to marry Wang Tingjun, the son of a wealthy merchant, who was much older.  She acquiesced and the couple had a son and a daughter.  Wang thought he was marrying a traditional girl, and he expected Qiu to behave as one, but Qiu couldn’t stand the confines of the relationship.  The children brought her little comfort, and she felt lonely and depressed.   

Qiu found her emotional outlet through writing poetry.  After she married, the themes of her verses shifted from nature, women’s activities and historical heroines to expressing loneliness and deep disappointment in her marriage.  She missed her birth family and wrote longingly about the past.

In 1898 the Boxer Rebellion broke out gainst the occupation of foreigners and spread of Christianity in China.  Two years later, The Boxers, also known as the Righteous and Harmonious Society Movement, attacked the foreign embassies in Peking.  This reignited in Qiu the ambition to serve her country and do something great.  Being bound in a conventional marriage was an obstacle to her following her passion, but not a deterrent. 

FOLLOWING HER PASSION       When she was 28, Qiu left her family behind to go to Japan to study.  She started wearing pants like men in the West and openly advocated for more rights for women.  She established a newspaper and used her writing as a platform to denounce foot binding and other practices that subjugated women and to support overthrowing the Chinese government. 

When Qiu returned to China in 1906, she started a feminist newspaper called Chinese Women which encouraged women to train for work in various professions to become financially independent.  The following year she became the principle of the Shaoxing Datong Sports Teachers School.  On the surface, it was a school for elementary school physical education teachers, but it was actually a place to train military leaders for the revolution.  Qiu and her cousin, Hsu His-lin, worked together to unify the various secret revolutionary groups to effectively overthrow the Manchu government.

In July 6, 1907, Hsu was betrayed by a traitor among his fellow rebels.  During interrogation he confessed his affiliation and was executed.  About a week later Qiu was also arrested, but she denied any involvement in the rebellion.  The authorities found incriminating documents, however, and she was immediately beheaded.

Six months after her death, two of Qiu’s friends arranged for a proper burial.  Qiu’s memorial service turned into a public protest.  The government had not become any more sympathetic to Qiu, and within a year, her tomb was razed.  Qiu’s two caring friends ended up being wanted by the government for their association with her.

QUESTION:  What was the most helpful or honorable thing you’ve ever done for a friend?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved 

Sources:

 

http://pagerankstudio.com/Blog/2010/07/all-about-qiu-jin-biography-life-facts-information-pictures-timeline-childhood/

http://www.shaoxing.gov.cn/en/0307/10350.htm

Ashby, Ruth and Ohrn, Deborah Gore, editors, Herstory: Women Who Changed the World.  New York, N.Y.: Viking, 1995.  Qiu Jin profile by Lynn Reese.

http://muse.jhu.edu/login?uri=/journals/late_imperial_china/v025/25.2ying.html

SOPHIE BLANCHARD (1778 –1819) First Women to Fly Solo in a Hot Air Balloon

In adventure, Ballooning, Biography, Feminists, French History, People, Pilots, Uncategorized, women on September 15, 2010 at 9:34 AM

Sophie Blanchard

In the 1960s, The 5th Dimension sang, “Would you like to ride in my beautiful balloon?”  When Sophie Blanchard’s husband said that to her, she said, “Yes,” and they were Up, Up and Away.  Sophie felt most comfortable in the air, but what goes up must come down.

Marie Madeleine-Sophie Armant came to the world’s attention when she married Jean-Pierre Blanchard, an inventor and pioneer in French aviation, specifically ballooning.  Other than the fact that she was born to Protestant parents in western France, almost nothing is known about her young life.

Blanchard was about 16 years old when she married, 35 years younger than her husband, becoming his second wife.  She was described as a small, nervous woman who startled easily when she heard loud noises.  When she started flying with Jean-Pierre, she felt more at home in the quiet, peaceful sky than on terra firma.

TAKING TO THE SKIES                Blanchard made her first balloon ascent in 1804 with her husband as a stunt to raise money.  Even though Jean-Pierre was the world’s first professional balloonist and had made demonstration tours all over Europe, he wasn’t a very good businessman.  They hoped that having a woman in the basket would attract more fans.  Blanchard wasn’t the first woman to ride in a balloon.  Three other women had gone up in tethered balloons, and two women had previously gone up untethered, but seeing a woman aloft was still a novelty.

In 1809, Jean-Pierre was flying over The Hague when he had a heart attack and fell from his balloon.  He died from his injuries.  He had adopted the Latin phrase Sic itur ad astra (“Such is the path to the stars”) as his personal motto.  Blanchard decided to follow her husband’s path and became the first woman to fly solo in a balloon.

Blanchard still needed to pay off the debt left by her husband, so her balloon of choice was a hydrogen-filled gas balloon.  The benefits of using gas (instead of hot air) generally outweighed the risks.  She wouldn’t have to tend to a fire to keep the balloon airborne and, since she was a petite woman, she could use a small basket about the size of a chair and minimal gas to inflate the balloon.

WORTH THE RISK                          Even though ballooning had been popular for almost 30 years, the inherent dangers still made it a risky endeavor.  Blanchard passed out during several flights because of the high altitude, and she encountered freezing temperatures when she cruised at 12,000 feet.  In 1811, she had to stay airborne for over 14 hours to avoid a hail storm.  And sometimes landing was just as risky.  One time her balloon made a crash landing in a marsh, and she almost drowned.

Blanchard’s husband had experimented with parachutes, dropping dogs out of the basket to demonstrate floating down to earth safely.  One time when flying solo his balloon ruptured, and he was grateful for the parachute as his only way to escape.  None of Jean-Pierre’s mishaps deterred Blanchard from her own desire to be a pilot.  When she had the opportunity to fly solo, Blanchard also tested the flotation devices using dogs, but she never had the occasion to need one herself.  When she flew exhibitions at events, she spiced things up by attaching small baskets of fireworks to parachutes to light up the sky as they were falling.

Engraving of Sophie Blanchard in 1811

GETTING OFFICIAL RECOGNITION      Napoleon was a big fan of Madame Blanchard, and he appointed her as the “Aeronaut of the Official Festivals,” making her responsible for organizing balloon demonstrations at official events.  In 1810, she flew over the Champs de Mars (today near the Eiffel Tower) in honor of Napoleon’s marriage to Marie-Louise of Austria.  To commemorate the birth of their son, Blanchard flew over Paris dropping announcements of the birth.  One year later, Blanchard made an ascent over the palace Château de Saint-Cloud during the official celebration of the boy’s baptism, and she set off fireworks from her balloon.  There’s speculation that she also devised plans with Napoleon to use hot air balloons for an aerial invasion of England, which were never carried out.

Blanchard’s popularity outlasted Napoleon’s rule.  When Louis XVIII returned to Paris in 1814 to regain the throne, she participated in the official procession, making her ascent from Pont Neuf.  King Louis was so impressed by her performance that he named her the “Official Aeronaut of the Restoration.”

Blanchard was also known throughout Europe, and large crowds came to watch her.  For the opening night of the opera in Frankfurt in 1810, she was allegedly responsible for a poor audience, as most of the city turned out to see her rather than attend the opera’s debut.

AN UNPLANNED DESCENT          In 1819, when Blanchard was 42 years old, she made an ascent over the Tivoli Gardens (now the site of the Saint-Lazare station), an area she was very familiar with.  She was warned repeatedly about the dangers of using pyrotechnics in her exhibitions.  She had never had an incident, but on the night of July 6, she was uncharacteristically nervous.  She went ahead with the demonstration, wearing a white dress and white hat topped with ostrich feathers and waving a white flag.  There was a strong wind and the balloon had difficulty rising.  It bounced off a tree in the attempt.  Blanchard threw ballast overboard, reducing the weight but also jeopardizing her stability.

When she had cleared the trees, Blanchard began her show using “Bengal Fire” fireworks to illuminate the balloon.  While she was still rising, the hydrogen caught on fire and the balloon started to fall.  The wind carried her off course, and Blanchard continued to eliminate ballast to become lighter and keep from plunging to the ground.

The balloon drifted above the rooftops of the Rue de Provence where the hydrogen gas finally burned up, causing the balloon to drop onto the roof of a house.  Blanchard was tossed out of her small basket, fell to the street below and was killed.  Speculation after the fact determined that the pyrotechnics were knocked out of position by the tree the balloon hit on the way up.

The crowd was stunned, and the rest of the event was cancelled.  The owners of Tivoli Gardens donated the admission fees to the support of Blanchard’s children.  When they found out that she didn’t have any children, the money was used to build a memorial to her over her grave, which was engraved with epitaph “victime de son art et de son intrépidité” (“victim of her art and intrepidity”).

QUESTION:  How do you feel about flying?  Would you like to be a pilot?  Why or why not?

©2010 Debbie Foulkes All Rights Reserved

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sophie_Blanchard

http://www.mindensoaringclub.com/int2/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=115&Itemid=1

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jean-Pierre_Blanchard

http://www.eballoon.org/history/history-of-ballooning.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Louis_XVIII_of_France

http://www.latin-dictionary.org/Sic_itur_ad_astra

http://www.songfacts.com/detail.php?id=2059