The amazing Strongwoman Katie Brumbach often dazzled and amazed diners at her restaurant by lifting her husband above her head during dinner. Known as "The Great Sandwina" and "The Female Hercules", Katie was the daughter of a pair of Bavarian circus performers and one of 14 children. A statuesque beauty at almost 5'10" tall, she towered over most men, for the average male height in the late 19th century was 5'7". Her Austrian father, a circus Strongman, was 6"6' tall -- very rare for the time -- which is from whom Katie inherited her height and her strength.
Legend has it that Katie Brumbach was born in the back of a circus wagon in the year 1884 just outside of Vienna, Austria. She started her career rather early -- at the ripe old age of 2! As she trained with her family and grew older, she quickly became and integral part of her family's circus act.
Sandwina definitely took after her larger-than-life father. Katie proved her unusual strength by her ability to bend metal bars and break metal chain as though it was nothing. But she was not only incredibly strong, but lovely of figure and totally feminine, even though she was competing in a physical arena otherwise reserved for men.
As a matter of fact, Sandwina's father enjoyed entering her in weight lifting and wrestling contests against her male counterparts, who more often than not underestimated her abilities. She was an accomplished wrestler, and when she was a teen, her father offered a prize of 100 gold marks to any man who could beat her in the ring.
She was undefeated when at age 16 an acrobat named Max Heymann decided that it would be great publicity for his career to defeat her in a dramatic display on stage. (He apparently thought there was no way a woman could defeat him! Ha! The joke was on him!)
Katie easily overtook him as she towered over him and tossed him to the floor. The story is that he looked up at her from the floor and immediately fell in love with her, which she unabashedly returned. They soon married and Sandwina incorporated him into a routine where she was dressed as a soldier and he was, well, the rifle, which she twirled overhead during her rifle drill. Can you imagine? And although it wasn't his original idea of their partnership in showbiz, he quite enjoyed it!
Sandwina, who was successful in a primarily male professional, always maintained her femininity. When she wasn't exhibiting her strength on stage, she was painting her nails.
She was one of the most popular female strongwomen of her day and although she towered over many, she was adored by men for her strength and beauty and by women for breaking barriers and proving that women were just as capable as men.
She had a lovely, shapely and ideal feminine figure measuring 44"-29"-43" with a 14" bicep! After she and her husband came to America and joined the Barnum & Bailey circus in 1910, a publicity stunt that brought a group of physicians from across the country to examine her. These men of medicine, after examining her, proclaimed that, “In every way, according to her measurements, she is a perfect woman by all the accepted standards.” Wowzah!
A woman who was not afraid to speak her mind, she was also not afraid to express her sexuality. She was often asked if she like men, to which she replied, "What shall I say? Men are like air to me, you can’t live without them. Every now and then I breathe good fresh air, you know.” (I wonder what her husband thought about that statement.)
Katie and her husband Max went on to have two sons, and of course she performed up to the night before she gave birth! One son became a boxer, and the other an actor, somewhat carrying on the family tradition in the performing arts. Later on, when she and her husband bought a restaurant in Ridgewood, New York, where the men did the work and Katie was the star attraction, mingling with customers. However, whenever a customer was being obnoxious and rude the staff (her husband and sons), she would promptly punch their lights out and throw them into the street! You go, girl!
This amazing woman, Katie Brumbach, not only broke barriers as an athletic champion, but was a champion for women's rights. She was a very outspoken advocate the women’s right to vote, and in 1912 she became known as "Sandwina the Suffragette". She was elected Vice President of the 800-strong (so to speak) Suffragette Ladies of the Barnum & Bailey Circus.
A 1910 promotional article featuring Sandwina entitled "Happy Family Ruled by Giantess Makes Anti-Suffragists Tremble" the reporter stated, “The anti-suffragists who go to the Barnum & Bailey Circus at Madison Square Garden, and see Sandwina, the German strong woman, lift her husband and two-year-old son with one arm, tremble for the future of the anti-cause. When all women are able to rule their homes by such simple and primitive methods they will get the vote—or take it.” A pretty sexist quote, but it was clear that Sandwina was clearly loved and respected by her public.
Now you might wonder, since she was born Katie Brubach and then married Max Heymann, where did the name "The Great Sandwina" come from? When in New York in 1902, Katie met Eugene Sandow, the greatest strongman of the time. He challenged her to a weight lifting contest, which ended with her lifting a 300 lb. weight over head -- while Sandow could only lift it to his chest. So in honor of her win, the public endowed her with the name of "Sandwina" in celebration of Sandow's defeat. And it stuck.
This female Hercules, the beautiful Katie Brubach, had unbelievable strength of body as well as character -- but I guess when you start training at age 2, that's bound to happen.