The topic of iron-strong women has been covered previously here, with the beguiling Charmion and the mighty Minerva being featured formerly. However one name that should never be omitted from the records of curious history is Sandwina, a woman who at her peak was perhaps the most physically powerful person walking the planet earth.
The mighty Sandwina was born as Kate Brumbach in 1884 in Vienna, Austria to Bavarian parents. Her parents were circus strength performers of rather hearty proportions in their own right. Her father Philippe was said to possess a barrel chest of 56 inches and her mother Johanna had muscle laden biceps measuring over 15 inches. Together the pair of prodigious physical prodigies sired fourteen children.
Kate’s three sisters Barbara, Eugenia and Marie possessed great physical strength and performed alongside their parents in power demonstrations. Kate, however, was gifted with strength unparalleled by her siblings and would be the only one to go on to spectacular fame.
Kate’s natural strength came from her lineage and physical proportions. In adolescence Kate stood just over six feet tall and weighed 187 pounds. She honed her natural abilities through intensive exercise and in her heyday was known for her bulging 17 inch biceps and 26 ½ inch thighs. Kate initially displayed her muscular girth to the paying patrons of the circuses her father contracted with. She was initially a wrestler of men and famously offered 100 marks to any man who could best her. According to legend, she never lost her bet and even gained a husband after soundly thrashing a young man by the name of Max Heymann. Heymann thought tussling with a woman would be a rather delightful way to earn 100 marks. But by his own account he recalled only entering the ring, a blue sky and being carried away from the ring by Kate like a prize. The couple remained married for 52 years.
Kate appeared on the world stage quite suddenly while visiting New York. In a promotional stunt and after boasting of her strength, Kate made an open challenge daring anyone to lift more weight than she. To her surprise, and to the surprise of those assembled, none other than the father of powerlifing and bodybuilding Eugene Sandow took Kate up on her challenge.
Sandow was a man carved of granite. Indeed, he had sculpted his body to resemble the statues of the old gods he saw as a child. He was considered the most physically gifted man in the world and Kate was certain that she had made a grave error in judgement. Still the contest began as Kate began lifting increasingly heavy weights and Sandow, subsequently, lifted those she was done with. This went on for some time, until Kate hoisted the unholy sum of 300 pounds above her head with one hand. Sandow could only raise the weight to his chest and Kate was declared the winner. It was shortly thereafter that Kate adopted the name Sandwina – a feminine derivative of ‘Sandow’ – though it is unclear if this action was a tribute or a taunt.
From then on Sandwina was known exclusively for her feats of strength. She was known to routinely juggle 30 pound iron spheres and press her 165 pound husband above her head using one arm. Some of her more famous feats involved lifting horses, maintaining carousels of 14 persons on her shoulders and carrying a half ton of cannons on her back. In between all of that, she also bore a son, Theodore Sandwina.
Sandwina did the bulk of her touring in the United States and was still performing with the Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus at the age of 57 in 1941. At the age of 64, Sandwina retired from touring and opened a restaurant with her husband in New York. On occasion she was still known to delight patrons by breaking horseshoes, bending steel bars and on the rare occurrence by hoisting her husband skyward. Her son Theodore had inherited his mother’s formable strength and grew to 6 foot 2 and 200 pounds. He used his impressive strength and size to become a champion boxer and retired with a record of 46 wins -38 of those by knockout.
On January 21, 1952, Sandwina lost her first and only wrestling bout to cancer. While cancer won and claimed her life, it could not take away her mark on history or her title of Strongest Woman in the World.