International Women's Day is getting alot of attention this year, so I thought in honor of today I'd highlight a female pioneer who may be recognizable from her often-published circus poster - EVETTA.
The Barnum & Bailey show created quite the stir during the 1895 season with Josephine Mathews (also sometimes labeled as Williams in the press) aka Evetta, The Lady Clown. That season the show posters advertised a female ringmaster, Millie Dunbar.
|From Buckles Blog|
The 1895 season was so successful that in 1896 posters advertised TWO lady clowns and TWO lady ring-masters.
The poster on the right is from the 1896 season.
I haven't been able to find much information as of yet on the second female clown, advertised as 'A Mathews Sister', other than she was briefly and namelessly interviewed in a article in 1896 about corsets and how wearing one didn't inhibit her from tumbling or being a clown (Evetta didn't wear a corset so I assume the quip came from the other clown, as pictured in the posters wearing a corset).
|unidentified early female clown|
photo courtesy of Christina Gelsone
The following is an interview with Evetta from April of 1895, who in this article is listed as Miss Williams for unknown reasons.
A WOMAN CLOWN
She Likes It, and Has Made Quite a Success
"My reason for becoming a clown," said Miss Williams, the only lady clown on earth according to the circus bills, "was to make money. My father was a clown for 40 years. He was with the Barnum and Bailey show in this country for nearly 20 years. He had 21 Children, and all of them were in this business in some capacity or other, generally as acrobats and tumblers. My three brothers were clowns, and they used to come to me for ideas. I was not suited for an acrobat. It is too hard work. I thought that I would become a clown myself and make use of the suggestions I used to furnish them.
|From a Barnum & Bailey 1896 Newspaper Ad|
There are 12 of our family now in the circus business. Father has retired. He keeps a little public house near London. In the winter I go there and help him. This is my first voyage to America. I believe that a woman can do anything for a living that a man can do, and do it just as well as a man,. All my people laughed at me when I told them that I was going in to the ring as a clown. But they do not laugh now, when they see that I can keep in an engagement all the time and earn as much or more money than they can in other branches of the business. I am paid for my ideas. Every day I try to think out something new, and the management usually gives me pretty wide latitude. My first engagement was with an English circus in the provinces. I made a hit and managed to get into the Hippodrome in Paris. I was there two years. Then I went back to London and did pantomime work. But I liked circus work best. The chief difficulty is in making myself heard. But, then, nobody ever listens to what a clown says. Everything depends on the antics. I am a fair tumbler, and manage to get along all right. I shall probably stop in this business until I get married. Of course, I hope to get married some day. Every woman does. But I do not believe in women sticking to the business after they are married, though the rule in a circus seems to be just the reverse. These bareback riders and trapeze artists all have husbands or brothers about the building somewhere. That is why the standard of morality in the circus is far better than it is in the theater. That is a fact."
|Miss Evetta, 1896|
Miss Williams is a rather undersized woman, about 25 years old, with an abundance of health and energy. She rides a bicycle, swings Indian clubs, and does everything else that a man does to keep herself in proper trim. One of her favorite tricks as a clown is to put on a bonnet and a long cloak and sit by an innocent young man in the audience. In nine cases out of ten he is very much preoccupied in the performance, and does not pay any attention to her. Suddenly she astonishes him by shouting to the ringmaster for a job. He takes the cue and begins to dicker with her.
"How much will you give me?"
"Ten dollars a performance."
"Oh, no! This young man here that I am engaged to will give me more than that to stop here with him." (Great confusion of the young man referred to if he does not grasp the situation.)
Finally the cloak and bonnet are tossed aside and the lady clown leaps into the ring. This trick worked very successfully the other night. The men in the clown business rather enjoy Miss Williams's antics but they do not regard her as a serious competitor or believe that any other women are likely to follow her example.