The strongman has long been a staple in circus and sideshows. The image of handlebar mustached man garbed in a leopard print leotard has become the stereotypical image associated with feats of extraordinary strength. But, what about the ‘fairer sex’? Was there ever a professional strongwoman?
Truth be told, there were several.
Perhaps the best known and traditional of these brawny babes was Josephine Blatt, who was better known by her stage name Minerva.
Josephine Blatt’s early history is shrouded in carnival gimmickry. She claimed to have been born in 1865 in Hamburg Germany but other sources, most notably The Guinness Book of World Records, pegged her as an American born in 1867 in Hoboken, New Jersey. Regardless of this discrepancy, few questions exist in regards to her remarkable strength.
In her displays she demonstrated her strength by breaking horseshoes with her hands, breaking steel chains by expanding her chest, and playing catch with a 24 pound cannon ball. She was capable to lift a stone weight of 360 lbs with a single finger thrust through a lifting ring. Furthermore, The Guinness Book of Records recognized Minerva as having lifted the greatest weight ever by a woman. At the Bijou Theatre in Hoboken on April 15, 1895 Josephine Blatt lifted 3,564 lbs in a hip-and-harness lift. With that superhuman lift, Josephine Blatt nearly achieved the mythical status of her namesake.
She retired with her strongman husband, Charles Blatt, in 1910 and eventually passed away on September 1, 1923.
Around the same time that Minerva was raising great weights, a young lady named Charmion was raising eyebrows with her unusual strength-related act.
Laverie Vallee, Charmion, was a Sacramento born trapeze artist who possessed strength and a physique most men would be envious of. However, she was most well known for her risqué striptease performances.
The act opened with Charmion taking the stage in full Victorian attire. She would then mount the trapeze and proceed to undress to her leotard while performing impressive and strength-dependant stunts. The act was incredibly impressive and provocative for the era. However, the controversy created by her performances did not prevent the formulation of a devoted, and mostly male, fan base.
One of her greatest fans was Thomas Edison. As a result of that adoration, on November 11, 1901 Charmion committed a simplified version of her act to film for Edison. The film, simply entitled ‘Trapeze Disrobing Act’ focused more on the erotic aspect of the performance, though a few remarkable feats of strength are featured.
Charmion eventually retired to Santa Ana, California. She passed away on February 6, 1949 at the age of 73.