Vintage female bodybuilders

vintage female bodybuilder

Those biceps!
Source: Big Things

In days gone by the ideal woman – in the eyes of many men –  was the epitome of swooning feebleness and simpering crinoline clad silliness. It took strong women to dismiss such ridiculous ideas.

Here we take a look at some of the strongest of all – strong women from the days before whey protein and creatine tablets. Girls who pumped iron.

Vulcana 1875 – 1946


Had a right hand bench press of 56.5kg
Source: Good Reads

Vulcana was the stage name of Kate Williams of Abergavenny. If the name seems over the top think again, because a personal best for a right handed bench press of 56.5kg was a serious achievement for a woman of her time. But Vulcana was more than a weight lifter, she was a consummate show woman and marvel of her era.

Her ‘piece de resistance’ was an act called the ‘Tomb of Hercules’.   Vulcana would take position beneath a platform upon which stood two horses and their riders. As the drum rolled, she’d bend over backwards into what yoga enthusiasts would call the ‘crab’ position. Then the supports were taken away and the mighty woman took the whole weight on her belly. Incredible.

Sandwina 1884 – 1952


Performed until she was nearly 60
Source: Wikipedia

Katie “Sandwina” Brumbach was an Austrian circus strong woman – one of a troupe of 14 performing siblings. Her stage name was inspired by the legendary “father of bodybuilding”, Eugene Sandow. Sandwina’s party piece was lifting her 165 pound husband above her head – with one arm.

A feisty lady, she would challenge all comers to wrestle her, promising 100 Marks to any who could defeat her. None ever did, quite a feat considering Sandwina continued to perform until she was nearly 60.

Minerva 1869 – 1923


Could catch cannon balls fired at her
Source: List Verse

Josephine Blatt aka Minerva was a star of her day and for some years held the world record for the heaviest weight ever lifted by a woman. On 15th April, 1895 at the  Bijou Theatre, New Jersey, she is reputed to have lifted a platform on which stood 23 men –  an incredible 3,564 lb – in a hip-and-harness lift.

Heavy lifting wasn’t the only string to Minerva’s bow. She performed across Europe and America as part of a husband and wife act. During stage shows, she would break horse shoes with her bare hands, snap steel chains across her chest and catch cannon balls fired at her from 30 feet away.

Anette Busch 1882 – 1969

Anette Busch

Wrestled bulls and bent iron bars
Source: FSC Club

This strong woman lived an extraordinary life. Originally from Estonia, Anette Busch joined the circus and trained to be a strong woman where as well as bending iron bars and snapping chains, she used to wrestle a bull, taking it by the horns and pushing it backwards.

So famous did she become that she was invited to go to Japan to entertain the Emperor there. On her return to Russia, the Tsar was overthrown and killed and the Anette found herself stuck in Siberia. Like many Russians at that time, she decided to make for China. During the trip she met and married a Czech army officer who was on the run from the Bolsheviks.

With her new husband as her manager, Anette Busch performed to rapturous applause in China, Korea, the Philippines and Taiwan. Later, the couple moved to Japan where they remained for the rest of their lives. There, Busch took up sumo wrestling against men. How’s that for girl power?

2 thoughts on “Vintage female bodybuilders

  1. Supplement Centre

    Glad you think so! And yes, lifting is proven to be a very healthy. So it isn’t just for men!


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