Herstories and How-To’s: Victorian Strongwomen.

I don’t know about you, but as soon as the sun starts shining and brisk spring breezes begin to blow, my mind instantly wanders to Pursuits of Health and Fortitude. When I see the first robin scratching for her first worm, I know I’m just a stone’s throw away from rugged hikes and bench pressing grown men.

Okay, so that last part might only be true in my dreams, which is why this month I’m living vicariously through my current obsession- Victorian Strongwomen. I know that being a “strong woman” is nuanced and that in many cases ‘strong’ denotes more than just physical might. I’d argue, though that these women were strong in many ways. Not only could they perform feats of strength unthinkable to most humans, but they did so during the Victorian Era- a time when women were expected to be the daintier, fairer (and weaker) sex, and even table-legs were deemed indecent for lady-eyes. Though we’ve come to accept even the shapeliest of furniture, women today are still sent all kinds of messed up signals about our bodies- told we’re too big, or not big enough, or too big but only in relation to other parts of our anatomy- told to build muscle, but be sure the muscle is ‘lean’ and not ‘too bulky’. (And heaven forbid any of us feel too good about ourselves, no matter what size or shape we may be).

Which is maybe why when I stumbled across Stuff You Missed in History Class’s episode about Katie Sandwina, I knew exactly who I wanted to share with you. And given the impending warmer weather (and accompanying reminders from the media to tone up our post-hibernation body-anxieties), and because I couldn’t choose just one, this month I’d like to briefly introduce you to four fabulous females:

‘No, no, what time should I pick YOU up, sirs?’ via wikipedia

Katie Sandwina (b. ‘Katherina Brumbach) was born in 1884 to a family of circus performers. Besides being just incredibly strong, Katie was also a talented wrestler. Early in her career, her father would offer 100 marks to anyone, man or woman who could best Katie in a wrestling match. Not only did she go undefeated, but during these impromptu matches Katie managed to best the famous strongman Eugene Sandow (AND take on his name), as well as Max Heymann, her future husband of 52 years. Perhaps my favorite thing about Katie was the way in which she embodied all of her roles- weightlifter, stronglady, performer, mother, restaurant owner- thoroughly without ever seeming to become a parody of herself. Her life was filled with fantastical moments- really, I can’t recommend the above podcast enough for the full story.


(there are other, more impressive pictures out there, but I just love the confidence in her whole stance) via wikipedia

Kate Williams, aka Vulcana, was a Welsh strongwoman who, when not performing, was busy being a Real Life Superhero. Her feats of heroism included punching out pickpockets, rescuing horses from fires, lifting stuck wagons and stopping a runaway horse (at the age of 13!).

One of the few confirmed images of Minerva via wikipedia

Minerva, was born Josephine Wohlford. Known for such standards as breaking chains with her chest and unbending horseshoes, Minerva was also known for her crazy extreme hip and harness lifts. (For years she held the Guinness World Record for lifting over 3000 pounds above her head.) Unfortunately, much of her life is wrapped up in vaudevillian glamor and hyperbole, leaving us with few substantiated facts.


BAM! via Girls With Muscle

And finally, we come to one of my personal favorite performers, Lavarie Vallee, a.k.a.  Charmion. Charmion was a strongwoman and trapeze performer who literally threw Victorian taboos to the wind. She was best known for an act in which she would demurely appear in full Victorian attire, then, through a series of acrobatic maneuvers suspended high in the air, she would remove one garment at a time until she was flipping and flexing in a leotard. (ESCÁNDALO!). Her many fans included one Thomas Edison, who loved her act so much, he preserved a simplified version of it for generations to enjoy.

While many of us will (sadly) never achieve phone-book-ripping strength, we can still take care of and pride in our strong bodies. And whether no matter what your movement of choice is- be it bending iron bars, yard-work or creating elaborate dance routines to ‘Mr. Roboto,’ odds are good you’re going to sweat, so this month, I’m going to show you how to:

Make Your Own Cheap, Effective Deodorant That’s So All-Natural You Could Eat It If You Had To (Like, If You Were On A Deserted Island Or Something)*

(Shameless self promotion: For more information about the fascinating history of commercial deodorant, tales of middle school anxiety and even a real (old) picture of armpit scabs, click here!)

  1. In a small jar, combine 4 Tablespoons of coconut oil, 3 Tablespoons of cornstarch or arrowroot and 3 teaspoons of baking soda. (note: if you find this ratio is ineffective, up the amount of baking soda and cornstarch. If you find this ratio is too harsh, decrease the baking soda)
  2. Microwave jar for 30 seconds at a time until the coconut oil is melted. Stir to combine everything, and let cool until solid again. (Before using fully, be sure to try a small test area to the back of your hand.)
  3. To use, swipe a bit onto your finger and schmear into your pits. In the summer, or if you live in a hot climate, you may find the deodorant reverting to a liquid state. Either store in the fridge or just know that you’ll have to wait a few minutes between application and putting on a shirt.

And that’s it. You can add fragrance or bees wax or the blood of a virgin to yours to make it extra smelly or solid or imbue it with powers, or you can use magic to somehow finagle it into an empty roll on deodorant container, but, should you wish to put forth the barest minimum of effort for satisfactory results, this is it. I’ve used this deodorant recipe for over two years now and not only have I had no complaints, smell-wise, it also has not given me a rash so far.

[*DISCLAIMER: I am in no way a physician, dermatologist, beautician/etc. These are recipes which I’ve tried and while they work for me, they may not work for you. This may be because your skin/hair/pits are different from mine or because your ingredients are from a different source or hell, because the moon is gibbous over Capricorn- I don’t know. I went to art school. If something’s not working for you, use common sense- either tweak it a bit or quit using entirely.]

 Go forth and sweat shamelessly whilst daintily foisting pianos on your pecs, my proud titanic Amazonian beauties!

via dailymail.co.uk





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