Born Kate Brumbach in 1884 in Vienna, to Bavarian parents. Kate lived strength from an early age. Her parents were regular performers in the German circus circuit. Their act consisted of formidable and impressive feats of strength. Her father Philippe was said to be able to lift 500 pounds with one finger. Her mother was said to possess 15-inch biceps. Strength was in Kate’s blood. As the years progressed and Kate grew older, she became a feature in her parent’s routine. Her 6 foot one frame was packed with nearly 200 pounds. She soon began to wrestle men on stage along with performing stunts with dumbbells and barbells.
Contribution to the Iron Game
Supposedly gaining the name Sandwina following a weightlifting victory over Eugen Sandow in America in the early 1900s, Sandwina’s contribution to the Iron Game was subtle but substantial. While many of us know about Sandow, Hackenschmidt, MacFadden and others, far fewer of us know about the strong women of the time. Alongside a handful of other female performers, Sandwina was among the first of a long line of strong women to grace the Iron Game and shake things up.
In 1911, Kate Carew, one of the US’s most influential journalists, ran a story on Sandwina that was to announce Sandwina to the wider United States. Carew had previously written about Mark Twain, Pablo Picasso and the Wright Brothers. Sandwina was in good company. The Carew article is one of the most fascinating documents written about Sandwina. Full of praise for Katie it displays the pressures faced by the Strongwoman. Carew was adamant that despite Sandwina’s strength, she was still an embodiment of femininity. Carew explained that although Katie’s arms could lift 240 pounds overhead, they were still supple and smooth enough to show off in a ball gown. Sandwina, she proclaimed, had
“No horrid lumps of muscle, dears—just a little ripple under the skin, like mice playing in a mattress.”
For some Sandwina was the embodiment of femininity, attracting suitors from around the United States. For others however she was the antithesis of what a woman should be. She was strong, independent and a known suffragette. Katie was frequently forced to discuss her maternal nature, to discuss her feminine love of the home and so on. This was done to ensure her acceptance into an American society still struggling with the concept of a physically strong woman. Katie was part of a new breed of women forging a place for themselves in a traditional male pursuit, but she was forced to do so within the guise of being a feminine performer.