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February 18, 2014

The Lady Hercules: Amazing Vintage Portraits of Katie Sandwina in the Early 20th Century

Katie Sandwina (1884–1952), born Katharina Brumbach in Vienna, Austria, was a circus strongwoman. She was born with everything she needed to succeed in life, and she grew to be a beautiful, strong woman, a really strong woman. Her physical strength and beauty gave her an edge in a man’s world, making her the specimen of perfection.

Sandwina was the second oldest of 15 children whose parents were circus performers. Of Bavarian stock, Philippe, who was six feet six inches tall and weighed about 260 pounds with a 56 inch chest, and his wife, Johanna, whose biceps measured 15 inches, amazed European audiences with their feats of strength. Three daughters inherited the strength and talent of their parents and joined the act very young.

When she was two, Sandwina reportedly did hand stands on her father’s hands. She was trained in gymnastics and then added weightlifting to her regime when she hit adolescence. Sandwina wasn’t the strongest of her siblings, but her strength combined with her perfect proportions and natural beauty made her the main attraction.

Sandwina worked in the United States with Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus for many years, until she was nearly 60. One of her standard performance feats was lifting her husband (who weighed 165 pounds) overhead with one hand. She performed many other feats, such as bending steel bars and resisting the pull of four horses. Sandwina's record stood for many years until being eclipsed by women's weightlifter Karyn Marshall in 1987.

Reporter Marguerite Martyn described her act when the circus came to St. Louis, Missouri, in 1911:
At the moment she was twirling her husband about in dizzy circles above her head... Carelessly, laughingly, she tosses her husband about as though he were not flesh and bone, but merely an effigy of inflated rubber. And he is no insignificant husband, either.



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