Women of the American Circus, 1880–1940

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About the Book

During the years 1880 to 1940, the glory days of the American circus, a third to a half of the cast members were women—a large group of very visible American workers whose story needs telling. This book, using sources such as diaries, autobiographies, newspaper accounts, films, posters, and route books, first considers the popular media’s presentation of these performers as unnatural and scandalous—as well as romantic and thrilling. Next are the stories told by circus women, which contradict and complicate other versions of their lives. Across America in those years an array of acts featured women, such as tableaux, freak shows, girlie shows, tiger acts, and aerial performances, all involving special skills and all detailed here. The book offers a unique and fascinating view of not just the circus but of what it meant to be an American woman at work.

About the Author(s)

Katherine H. Adams is the Hutchinson Distinguished Professor of English at Loyola University New Orleans.
Michael L. Keene is a professor emeritus of English at the University of Tennessee Knoxville.

Bibliographic Details

Katherine H. Adams and Michael L. Keene
Format: softcover (7 x 10)
Pages: 223
Bibliographic Info: 45 photos (8 in color), bibliography, index
Copyright Date: 2012
pISBN: 978-0-7864-7228-4
eISBN: 978-1-4766-0079-6
Imprint: McFarland

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments      vi
Preface      1
Introduction      2

PART ONE. MEDIA DEPICTIONS: THE STORIES TOLD ABOUT CIRCUS PEOPLE      19
1. Circus in the Established Media: Unnatural, Scandalous, Perilous      21
2. Circus by Press Agents: Contradictory Extremes      28
3. Circus Books for Children: Gendered Romantic Dreams      36
4. Romanticized Books for Men and Women      43
5. The Complexities of Filmic Representation      52

PART TWO. CIRCUS DEPICTIONS: THE STORIES CIRCUS PEOPLE TOLD      59
6. Separation and the Status of Other      63
7. Entering a Circus Career      67
8. Behavior Rules for Women and Their Contracts      74
9. The Rigors of Practice      78
10. Life on the Road and Rails      83
11. Scanty Dress      85
12. The (Difficult) Road to Success      89

Between pages 92 and 93 are 8 pages containing 8 color plates.

PART THREE. THE CIRCUS COMES TO TOWN      93
13. The Power of the Poster      95
14. The Unloading and the Parade      103
15. To the Menageries, Games of Chance and the Sideshows      106
16. Into the Dressing Tents      111
17. The Big Show / The Circus Gaze      115
18. Late-Night Girlie Shows      120

PART FOUR. CIRCUS WOMEN RANKED AND SEEN      123
19. Ballet Girls      124
20. Statuary/Tableaux Artists      129
21. Mostly Stationary Freaks      132
22. The Silent Assistant and the Magic Act      148
23. Equestrians      152
24. Trainers of Wild Animals      158
25. Aerial Artists      170
26. Bike/Car Tricksters      176
27. Sharpshooters      179
28. Clowns      183
29. Circus Managers/Owners      188
30. Toward the End of a Career      191

Conclusion      193
Works Cited      195
Index      205

Book Reviews & Awards

“valuable…recommended”—Choice.