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Circa 1880/ entertainer-athlete

I’m female. For my daily exercise, I like to walk or jog; I also participate in road races (10k to UltraMarathon distances). I am interested in Victorian historical and fantasy inspired (Steampunk) costuming. So, how do all these things get pulled together? I’ve been researching women in the sport of pedestrianism, or Victorian endurance walking, with the wild hare idea of someday wearing period attire during a contemporary long distance sporting event!

Brief Historical notes:

In the early Victorian era, there was a craze for walking contests. Pedestrian events were spectacles of distance and endurance. Popular stunts included the challenge of walking 1000 miles in 1000 hours, 100 miles in less than 24 hours, 6 day races or for multiple athletes to compete to see who could amass the most miles in a lesser specified time period. Enormous cash prizes were offered for these races and they were popular spectator entertainment for the press, crowds of working class spectators, and the betting public until the 1880s. Events were usually held on tracks in various sporting venues, but also in the circus ring and in saloons (where the track distance might be extremely short and was sometimes referenced as “walking the plank”).

Yes, there were women who did such events; women walkers were sometimes referred to as pedestriennes. The era of women’s walking seems most popular around 1860-90, in England, America and New Zealand. Some of the more well known pedestriennes of their day were Amy Howard, Ada Anderson and Bertha Von Hillern.

Some women raced in modest petticoats, some in bloomers costume, others in theatrical garb and even male attire. From a modern perspective looking back, it seems the floozier you were the less restrictive covering and clothing you could wear- and so the more comfortable you would be in motion…ie, burlesque and circus folks might have spangles, but would also have skimpier tunics, trunks, tights. I’m wondering if corsets were worn, perhaps laced less tightly, or foregone, or if shorter health/sports corsets were used or?

"They would no longer be left beside the track waving handkerchiefs and throwing flowers." from: http://www.lehigh.edu/~dmd1/kelly.html

In the late 1870's, women began to cash in on pedestrianism with their own races. Competition between females drew large crowds, and promoters and gamblers took quick action to capitalize on the situation. Newspapers sometimes reported such events from an erotic (rather than athletic) point of view. The most vivid memories of these women were that they were brazen and immoral burlesque entertainers, but top female walkers also became a symbol of heroic, independent womanhood. In any case, races between women began to attract the attention of a society permeated by Victorian morality.

Another period press source is quoted as saying the women walkers were "A queer lot, tall and short, heavy and slim, young and middle-aged, some pretty and a few almost ugly."

The editor of one sporting newspaper, however, displayed Victorian concern before the contest, remarking how do these ladies propose to walk? If in petticoats they will soon tire, if in bloomer costume they will not make very extraordinary time, but if they strip to tights and trunks, and go for putting on a record, they will expose themselves to criticism.

This is from the best article I’ve found: http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/JSH/JSH1999/JSH2601/jsh2601c.pdf
http://www.ultrawalking.net/historia/mujeresmarcha.html Women Behaving Madly another good source article

“Higher class women had greater opportunity for working in legitimate theatre, but many working class women performers made their wages working in a variety of “dive” or saloon acts as burlesque singers and actresses, chorus girls, or as performers of athletic feats. Women performed athletic feats as circus performers, swimmers, boxers, baseball players, wrestlers, bicyclists and professional long distance walkers. Although several athletic performers were highly skilled many were portrayed as women of questionable reputations. Their activities were considered popular and vulgar entertainments.” D. Shuls

Descriptions of Women’s Pedestrienne costume:

BYGONE DAYS IN KING’S LYNN In 1878 and 1879, MADAM ADA ANDERSON of KING’S LYNN, who described herself as the ‘champion walker of the world’ performed several feats of endurance in Britain and the USA. These included 1,008 miles in 672 hours (by walking a mile-and-a-half at the beginning of every hour), 2,700 quarter miles in 2,700 quarter hours, and 1,000 miles in 2,500 quarter hours. On one occasion it was reported that Miss Anderson wore a loose dress reaching midway between the knees and ankles, and a jaunty hat set off by a feather. MISS WARREN, her rival, dressed in a loose dress or frock, “pantalets, a la zouave, caught near the ankles”, and a jaunty cap
It was Surrey Walking Club member, SANDRA BROWN, who succeeded Madam Anderson to become the first lady in modern times to complete 1,000 miles on the track, when she set 13 new world records from 900kms to 1,000 miles in a 1,000 miles race in Queensland, Australia in March 1996.

In the UK, long-distance races between women were put on at various venues, including Preston, Lancs and in London at Alexandra Palace, Lambeth Baths Gymnasium, and North Woolwich Gardens. In August 1884, at the last of these venues, MADAM ENGLO, a celebrated pedestrienne, set out to walk 1,000 miles in 500 hours. Bell’s Life reported that “Madam Englo, we are informed, is a mantel-maker by trade, stands 5ft 4 and-a-half inches, weighs 9st, is 37 years of age, and has been in the walking game for about 8 years. She walks in fine, free fair style, and was attired with great taste in a tight-fitting tunic of plum-coloured velvet, with crimson sash, which, with trunks, stockings and high boots, formed a costume at once easy and graceful”.

These extracts are taken from UNBROKEN CONTACT, the History of 100 Years of Walking with Surrey Walking Club (Edited by Sandra Brown). This book is still on sale. Great descriptions are given of the attire chosen by Mesdames Anderson, Warren and Englo – but not of the kit favoured by Sandra!

Neither Von Hillern nor Marshall walked to openly contest Victorian morals. Both performers dressed in petticoats and neither attempted to run.
The Post remarked that Miss Bertha Von Hillern appears to be the fashion, and her last remarkable feat will intensify the rage that her successes have excited. Newspaper advertisements noted that photographs of the pedestrienne would be sold at a local department store. Also banking on the performer's success, a hat seller in Worchester advertised Von Hillern hats as the newest fashion. Bertha Von Hillern was considered a household word in several communities.

As advertised, women could buy pedometers for $5 at Tiffany & Company to monitor their daily walks and retailers could buy mail order illustrations of women pedestrians sold by the Metropolitan Job Printing Company for $20 per hundred. 64
. The New York Illustrated Times, January 4, 1879, 195 and Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, February 1, 1879, 1, presented front page action pictures and stories of Anderson. from: http://www.la84foundation.org/SportsLibrary/JSH/JSH1999/JSH2601/jsh2601c.pdf

http://www.ultrawalking.net/historia/mujeresmarcha.html Women Behaving Madly

In the same year of 1851 a development in fashion created new possibilities for women walkers. Mrs. Amelia Bloomer, of New York, visited England and promoted her controversial costume of coatee or bodice, short skirt and, under it, pantaloons or 'bloomers' reaching to the ankles; hardly sportswear but a huge advance on the crinoline. 'Pedestriennes' from America like Miss Cushman and Kate Irvine visited England and sported the new costume in 500- mile track walks that emboldened English women to do better. Mrs. Dunn, a Lancashire woman of 31, made the attempt in July, 1854, at Rock Ferry, Birkenhead, wearing a short bluejacket, pink trousers and straw hat and became known as the Bloomer pedestrian. An Australian, Margaret Douglas, had a gallant failure, watched by many, including the diarist, A J. Munby: 'A stout, sturdy little woman of 43; drest in a wideawake, a loose white shirt a red kilt with a pair of knickerbockers, breeches underneath, and red stockings; no petticoats. Round and round she went, like a wild animal in a vast cage, walking about 4 miles an hour, taking no notice of anyone.' Mrs. Emma Sharp Daringly dressed in men's clothes, down to white waistcoat and laced boots. She was soon attracting interest.


By the 1850s Mrs Amelia Bloomer had popularised a costume for women who wanted a more active life than the contemporary crinoline dresses allowed. This consisted of a bodice and short skirt,with pantaloons or `bloomers’ underneath which reached the ankles. Thus liberated,in November 1851 a Miss C.C.Cushman undertook to walk 500 miles in 500 hours in St Louis. The following year, another American, Kate Irvine, undertook the same feat, this time on the other side of the Atlantic, at Aston, near Birmingham, England, for a wager of $500, and in 1853 she returned from America to repeat this feat. from: http://www.ultralegends.com/pedestrianism-in-america/

Madame Anderson on January 13, 1879 proceeded to walk 2,500 quarter miles in 2,500 consecutive quarter hours. The first women's six day race was held on March 26, 1879 and the winner, Bertha Von Berg, received $1,000 with a distance of 372 miles.

Dined after a warm bath; and went for ten minutes, about 7 p.m., into the 'Alhambra', to see one Margaret Douglas, an Australian, who is there walking 1000 miles in 1000 hours. A boarded stage, 1/19th of a mile in circuit, has been built around the centre of the hall, high enough aloft to exhibit the performer: and upon it the woman was pacing as I entered. A stout sturdy little woman of 43; drest in a wideawake, a loose white shirt, a red kilt with a pair of knickerbocker breeches underneath, and red stockings, no petticoats. Round and round she went, like a wild animal in a vast cage; walking about four miles an hour; taking no notice of any one. A dozen visitors or so were looking on; at every round the umpire called its number: at the 19th he called 'Up!' and Margaret Douglas marched straight off the stage & disappeared - for an hour. She has been walking for a week: a monotonous, almost ludicrous performance: shows powers & last, however, & that is why I went to see it . . . Arthur Munby, Diary, 9 August 1864 from: http://www.victorianlondon.org/entertainment2/walking.htm

WOMEN WALKERS AND RUNNERS: A TIMELINE http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pedestrianism

From: http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archivefree/pdf?_r=1&res=9803EED6143FE432A25757C1A9649C946890D7CF

Amy Howard was the undefeated champion of women's six-day racing. Here she is posing with her "Rose" championship belt. She ran and walked 409 miles in six days in 1880 even though race officials required that women "pedestriennes" perform in dresses, much like the one she is wearing here. She died in 1885 at age 23, before ever reaching her full potentialAmy Howard was the undefeated champion of women's six-day racing.

From: http://edwardssears.com/npg%20hi.htm http://edwardssears.com/Amy%20Howard%20Hi.htm

The National Police Gazette was a combination sporting journal and risque men's magazine. An 1881 cover shows a ten-mile hare & hounds race where the female "hares" are scattering "scent" for the "hounds" to follow. While these races were popular at the time, this illustration is probably pure fantasy as it's hard to believe anyone could have run ten miles in the shoes the hares are wearing.

Sports & Dress reform:

Women's basketball, tennis, bicycling and horseback riding were conducted fully dressed and corseted, which did pose a limit on the level of exertion. The restricted lower ribcage encouraged breathing with the upper chest, which was deemed attractive. However, it was recognized that the corset provided valuable support for the torso and this enabled women to compete in sports that did not depend on flexibility at the waist. For example in 1907, a tightly corseted May Sutton competed in the US tennis championships and won. Before her, Irish Maud Watson, played tennis and won the inaugural ladies' championship in 1884 and '85. During both matches she was formally dressed and corseted, demonstrating that women who were used to being corseted, were less inhibited by the practice than is often presumed. Most of the inhibition was actually caused by the dress style itself. For example a promenade dress would only allow small steps to be made, whereas the dresses worn for sports allowed much more freedom around the legs. Removing the corsets during sports activity was usually discouraged, as it turned out that after a day of sports without the support, it would require a lot more effort to close the night corset. To address this problem, shorter corsets were developed, and by wearing these "sport" corsets (shorter on the hip) the wearer would maintain the upper torso and waist dimensions and avoid the nighttime struggle. It is interesting to note that a growing number of women horseback riders are returning to wearing traditional corsets again, to improve posture, and for abdominal and bust support.


Bicycling and other sports:

http://www.starrabinowitz.com/thesis_lara bicycle costume



1900 http://www.hickoksports.com/images/1900olposter.jpg

http://www.fashion-era.com/images/SocialHistory/seaumult500.jpg bathing costumes



Some more vintage photos and illustrations:


( 9 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 31st, 2009 10:13 pm (UTC)
OT, but when I clicked on the link to the pics my WOT (web of trust) add-on on Firefox went crazy. IT said that the site was a know danger, and to enter at my own risk. :| SO, I don't now what's up, but it seems something rather nasty has hitched a ride there.
Jul. 31st, 2009 10:13 pm (UTC)
Really neat, you can pull it off I bet :)
Aug. 1st, 2009 01:20 am (UTC)
thanks; hope to see MORE new art work from you soon! I *love* your style and talent!
Jul. 31st, 2009 11:23 pm (UTC)
Wow, you are a research FIEND! Fascinating reads.

I'll bet Laughing Moon's #105 Saloon Girl, Can-Can Dancer, Dance Hall Girl, Carnival & Circus Performer pattern would come in handy.
Aug. 1st, 2009 01:15 am (UTC)
Actually, I am a career research fiend; I work in the reference department of a public library. :) Yes, I'm considering using that LM pattern as a possibility; thanks for the link!
Jul. 31st, 2009 11:50 pm (UTC)
I would love to see what you end up with as I too run 10K's and half marathons and always thought it would be neat if I had something *other* that pink Nike shirts to wear (why oh why are all the women's running outfits in pink?).

I wish I could sew as I would love to have something steampunk but moisture-wicking to wear!
Aug. 1st, 2009 01:18 am (UTC)
yeah, I really think I'll go with modern fabrics but a steam/period look....
Aug. 1st, 2009 12:06 am (UTC)
Great idea, and some great resources you've listed. Thanks and good luck!
Aug. 1st, 2009 02:37 am (UTC)
This is fantastic! ...Now I am suddenly wanting to make several victorian outfits with short shorts. XD
( 9 comments — Leave a comment )

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