Tag Archives: Strong women

Just a quick word

Postcards were a fashionable and practical way of communication in the time before phones and social media. They were used in different ways – to wish a friend a happy birthday, to pass on information or just to keep in touch. Performers would send them out to agents in the hope of getting work and fans would search for the perfect card to add to a collection. There are many apologies on the backs of cards for failing to find the desired image and hopes expressed that the card sent will be enjoyed. Picture postcards could only be sent from 1894 and postcards sent previously could be devoted to writing only. The postal service was reliable, with more than one collection and delivery a day. This meant that arrangements could be made, changed or confirmed at short notice.

Marie Dainton

A card of Marie Dainton sent to Miss Railton from Bridgend in 1905 tells her that Mother has arrived safely and that Mrs Gammon and Herbert was meeting us at the station. In February 1904 the same Marie Dainton sends a postcard to herself from herself for luck. She was appearing in the Chinese Honeymoon as Mrs Pineapple.

Hetty King

Minnie writes to Mrs Locker on a card of Hetty King in 1906 to let her know that she is going on alright with her housekeeping and that Clare comes down to visit and she makes me the beds.

Gertie Gitana

Ethel Larder in Louth receives a card of Gertie Gitana which the writer, Florrie, bought at the Palace Theatre in Hull. She says Gertie was the star artist and the card was sold to support the Belgian relief fund.

The Edivictas

A card of a cycle act is sent with the stark message don’t forget to give our Willie the milk to bring up.  There is no date, sender or recipient so it could have been left propped up on a mantelpiece or pushed through a letterbox. Perhaps Willie turned up with the milk before it was sent.

La Milo

Pansy Montague, known as La Milo, caused raised eyebrows by posing as a living statue covered in alabaster whitening with a few strategically placed pieces of white material. She took part in a parade in Coventry in 1907 as Lady Godiva which caused a great scandal, although an anonymous correspondent writing to Clara cannot see that there is much in the postcard to make a fuss about. He had enjoyed himself at the music hall the previous night.

‘M’ receives a card asking if she has ever tried the Halls. The writer suggests the picture is M in a bathing costume and encourages her to try the hand balance in the sea where it would be an attraction, although cold.   

Finally an all lady rifle act send out postcards to say they are ‘vacant’ October 27th and onwards (no year). Their permanent address is 29 Richmond Terrace, Clapham Road, London.

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Raising the bar

imageIn Victorian and Edwardian society women were often portrayed as the weaker sex but music hall was another world altogether and audiences flocked to see women of prodigious strength full of confidence in themselves and their right to perform. One such was the Great Athelda, born Frances Rheinlander in Manchester, who performed on the music hall stage from around 1912. Athelda was reported to have made her debut in Buenos Aires in December 1911. She was also known as the miniature Lady Hercules and Britain’s Beautiful Daughter.

We know from reports at the time that her act began with various poses showing sinew, fibre and muscle without distortment and that her posing created something like a sensation in Dewsbury. She would pose while manipulating a dumbbell. In her own advertisement in 1913 she describes her act as dignified posing without ornamentation or drapery, showing genuine muscular development void of fat or pencilling. She sees herself as a graceful figure of beauty, muscle and concealed strength. I haven’t found reports of her height but she weighed 9st 5lb, just under 60 kilos, and was said to hold the record amongst ladies for lifting a half-hundredweight by means of her little finger. She would invite people on to the stage to check the weights were genuine.

In 1916 Athelda claimed to introduce an entirely new novelty in her speciality act which consisted of a group of women in classical poses, featuring acrobatic bending, singing etc which was all arranged to work in harmony. She had previously worked with female assistants, one of whom was called Tiney Loretta. In 1918 she specified she could work on any size stage as she travelled with an elaborate, unique fit-up which was in sections and that she had the equipment to produce her own posters, daybills and throwaways. This strong woman seemed determined to be independent in any way she could.

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Vulcana and Atlas

Athelda was always keen to portray herself as an honest performer and made a point of saying she did not write her own press notices or encourage reporters to say good things about her. There could well have been some needle in her pronouncements as she had a rival in the strong woman world whose name was Vulcana. I’ve written a previous post about Vulcana so won’t go into detail about her here. Performers placed adverts in the trade publications of the day and it is interesting (and amusing) that in The Stage whereadverts being featured in alphabetical order,  Athelda is placed immediately before Vulcana who appeared with the Atlas troupe.

In 1912 the two women were keen to win over promoters and managers and be at the top of the pecking order with Athelda writing that instead of swanking about her abilities she is a real weight-lifter while Vulcana claims to be the strongest lady living. The Great Athelda maintained she asked no favours and said she let her act speak for itself whereas Vulcana made great play of the fact that she had defeated every woman who claimed to lift heavy weights. Vulcana threw out a challenge that she would lift heavy weights against any woman who had the courage to cover her money. The following year in June 1913 Athelda accepted a challenge made by Vulcana but was defeated. She claimed she did not have fair play and issued a £10 side challenge to Vulcana to appear at Vint’s Palace in Llanelli on a Friday evening to ensure a fair test of skill of the two strong women. So far I can’t find evidence that the challenge was taken up. It was exciting for the audience and guaranteed good houses for the managers.

I’m including cards of two more strong women, Herculine and Madame Soffritti as well as a photo I came across of a would-be Athelda. Any information on Madame Soffritti would be much appreciated.

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Madame Herculine

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Thanks to the British Newspaper Archive. All images from the Monomania collection.