The first Strong Women appeared in the mid 1800’s but they remained basically unknown for a long time after that date. The opportunity for them to show their athletic capabilities came from the circus, which between the end of 1800 and the beginning of 1900 were touring all over Northern US and Europe. One of the most popular strong women was Katie Brumbach renamed “Lady Hercules”.

Coming from Vienna, her parents were circus artists as well as her 14 siblings. Mrs Brumbach were used to surprising the audience by lifting just with one arm her husband weighing 75 kg (165 lb) above her head, or her husband in one arm and a weight of 100 kg (220 lb) in the other. During her last years of career the woman and her husband joined the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus, where she kept on performing until her 57 years.

One of the pioneers of gymnastics for women, besides the famous Greek women from the Heraean Games, was Charlotte Perkins Gilman, American writer and sociologist, who fought the idea of physical immobility for the women in favour of a positive model of active and dynamic lifestyle.

Mrs Gilman was ahead of her time and her ideas were considered valuable only long time later. At the beginning of the 20th century exercising for women was disapproved by doctors, who believed that strength was male prerogative while ladies were supposed to raise children and look after the house.

Below: Ivy Russel

Only with the social and cultural revolution of the years following the WW2 that the physical exercise became the very first prescription, for both men ans women, and resulted in the legitimisation  of an athletic figure for women.

Below: Abbye ‘Pudgy’ Stockton, bodybuilder from the 30’s and 40’s

Below: Joan Rhodes, English athlete active until the 50’s

Below: Louise Leers trapezist and strong woman from the circus. Her real name was Luise Krökel and she performed during the 30’s

Below: “Vulcana, the muscular beauty”. Her real name was Kate Roberts (1874 – 1946)

Below: Louise Leers

Below: Katie Brumbach “Lady Hercules” in the exercise of the husband lifting

Below: “Iron Woman” circus artist in 1905

Below: Stanil Lawa during the 30’s

Below: Mildred Bliss, professional Wrestler during the 30’s, 40’s e 50’s

Below: “Vulcana” beginning of 1900’s

Below: Luisita Leers

Below: Laverie Valee, known as “Charmion”, trapezist and strong woman form the circus

Below: unknown circus strong woman

All picture are from the public domain

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Matteo Rubboli

I am a publisher specialised in the digital distribution of culture and founder of the portal Vanilla Magazine. I don't wear a tie or branded clothes, I keep my hair short so I don't have to comb it. That's not my fault but just the way I've been drawn as...

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