Women circus performers and the Suffrage movement in NYC

The Bowery Boys have just published an interesting article that tickles my fancy in so many respects! It’s an amazing collection of women’s rights, New York City politics, New York City history, AND CIRCUS HISTORY. Oh man, I’ll read anything that relates to the circus.

These guys know their stuff, too. Enjoy, and be sure to follow their podcast (which is excellent), and keep tabs on their Facebook, Twitter, and blog.

The famed Barnum & Bailey's presented an elaborate Cleopatra-themed stage show during its 1912 season, featuring over 1,500 performers. The show had debuted just the week before at Madison Square Garden. Courtesy of The Bowery Boys blog.

As the Barnum and Bailey troop traversed through New York city en route to their Big Apple performance space at Madison Square Garden, they became aware of the political bustling around them. The Women’s Suffrage Movement was creating quite a stir with the city’s women of power, and B&B’s female staff could not help but become enthralled by their activism. When word got out to the public that there was a stir at the circus, the public was less-than-enthusiastic for their support.

Modern women activists of the day were happy to see any headlines relating their cause, as long as the environment was a respectable one. The circus was not one of those environs. Then consider that most newspapers were operated by men and read by men. While some progressive sheets supported suffrage, several chose to cast the cause in a satirical light where possible. The ladies of Barnum & Bailey gave reporters a particularly ripe opportunity for a little spoofing.

Clearly flustered by the appearance of the press — the society ladies of the suffrage movement did not consider a circus ring an appropriate political venue — Jones repeatedly asked the ladies if they were serious, then dispensed advice on how to conduct themselves as standard-bearers of the roving suffragist cause.

Men working against women; women working against women–and why? Social respectability and grace? Good thing there were some ladies that saw through the code of manners and understood that they needed to work together for the greater cause!

From Walt Disney’s Mary Poppins, 1964

Read more on The Bowery Boys blog, and celebrate history with a dash of excitement! Thanks, guys!

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