Tag: Katie Sandwina

Sarah Pileggi, ‘The Pleasure of Being the World’s Strongest Women’, (Sports Illustrated, 1977)

Katie Sandwina was a professional strong woman who performed in John Ringling’s circuses in the early 1900s. She was celebrated for great feats of strength, such as carrying a 600-pound cannon on her back, and lesser ones, like executing the manual of arms with her 160-pound husband Max instead of a rifle. Sandwina was a handsome woman, standing 6’1″ and weighing 210 pounds. She had a narrow, corseted waist, in the style of the day, and well-rounded thighs filling out her white circus tights. Some people think Sandwina was the strongest woman who ever lived, but because very few strong women have thought it prudent to advertise their strength, the matter is difficult to judge.

In a genealogy of the spirit, Jan Todd would be in a direct line of descent from Katie Sandwina. The day four years ago when Jan first heard of Sandwina was also the day she began to turn over in her mind the possibility of shedding a feminine physical ideal that was not of her own making. Until that day she had been a naturally strong, athletically talented, intellectually well-equipped schoolgirl who took her strength for granted and worried, off and on, about her height (5’7″), her weight (165) and her posture (round-shouldered).

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Katie Sandwina: The Strongest Woman in the World

Katie_Sandwina_(the_Lady_Hercules)

Strongmen around the turn of the 19th century usually grab the attention of most people interested in Physical Culture. Almost everyone will know the name Eugen Sandow. Yet despite our preconceived notions that strength is an exclusively male pursuit, Physical Culture was in fact an all-encompassing movement that didn’t exclude based on gender. There were female performers as well, many of whom were stronger than their male counterparts. Society viewed these women with a suspicious eye. Was it possible to be strong and ladylike? Were they not too masculine? Katie Sandwina, once the ‘Strongest Woman in the World’ had to face many of these pressures. What’s more, she did it with a smile.