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January 28, 2014

22 Amazing Vintage Photographs That Capture Daily Life of Circus Girls in Sarasota, Florida in 1949

Nina Leen was a Russian-born American photographer and a constant contributor to LIFE magazine. A self-taught photographer she never became a staff photographer, but she contributed as a contract photographer until the magazine closed in 1972.

In 1949, LIFE sent Nina Leen to document the daily life of a sassy troupe of young women who had run off and joined the famous Barnum & Bailey Circus in Sarasota, Florida. What developed was a portrait of a sisterhood formed over acrobatics that mixed high-flying wire acts with fashionable high-waisted shorts.

Sarasota was once considered “the home of the American circus”. Leen’s stunning photos reflect an apparently carefree lifestyle of independent single women flourishing during a time in American history when most women were expected to marry instead of having careers. Leen went behind the scenes just seven years before the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Combined Shows announced it would no longer be performing inside tents. A circus tent fire in Connecticut in 1944 had killed more than 165 people.

Here, a group of circus girls taking a ride in a circus vehicle during a rehearsal for the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus in Sarasota, FL in 1949.

(Photos by Nina Leen / LIFE photo archive)


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