In the late 1800s and early 1900s, a new breed of women started to emerge from the depths of circus tents around the world: the strong-woman. These women quickly drew large crowds of circus lovers who were enamored and amazed by these women who seemed to have 'god-like' strength.
There were various types of strong-woman acts, but the most typical consisted of breaking or bending metal objects, juggling cannonballs, and lifting barbells, people and animals. Other acts like 'resistance artists' were also very popular, in a resistance routine strength would be displayed by pulling a large amount of weight using certain parts of their body. The teeth were a popular choice for this. Lastly, some acrobatic acts were also considered acts of strength. Many of these ladies were also able to pursue careers as stunt-women.
Strong-woman acts became staples for circuses and a few of them rose to celebrity status. One of the most well known ladies of strength was Joan Rhodes. She first started out as a cabaret act and variety hour performer, later landing appearances with Bob Hope. Rhodes was known for bending iron bars, ripping telephone directories and even lifting boxer Ewart Potgeiter who was believed to weigh close to 400 lbs.
In present day our strong-women now compete in body-building, Crossfit, and the World's Strongest Woman competition which is broadcasted annually on ESPN.
To this day, the ideas of femininity and masculinity are still fairly separate. Despite that fact, we have come closer to accepting that gender identity is more of a blurred line than the cookie cutter parameters we once put around what defines a man or a woman. The fact that these women were challenging what is beautiful and what is expected of a woman almost 200 years ago is truly impressive.
See the fascinating and sometimes bizarre images below: