Women and Animals
Everyone knows at least one story about some woman and her numerous pets. Usually, the pets are cats, dogs, or horses, but in some cases they are more exotic. For example, many real photo postcards show women with some surprising animals, including porcupines, beavers, lions, tigers, and huge snakes.
I personally have several postcards of Claire Heliot, the Lady with the Lions. She was an international star who is sometimes pictured carrying a huge lion across the stage. Unfortunately, like many other trainers of large cats, her career was cut short after she was mauled by one of her animals.
Heliot is just one of a host of women who worked with big cats. Numerous other postcards show different women with their giant cats: "Madame Morelli, and her wonderfully trained but treacherous pets" (also known as "Queen of the Jaguars"); "Vera Robinson, America's Popular Lion Trainer"; "Madame D'Orcy D'Avilly, France's Foremost Lion Tamer"; and a number of other women from the early 20th century.One well-known American performer, who worked as recently as the 1960s, was Mabel Stark,who was orphaned at 13 and later joined a carnival as a stripper. When the manager left to start his own circus, he invited Stark to join him. She did, choosing to work with tigers. Stark, who had always said that she hoped to die from a tiger's claws, was severely mauled by one when she worked for the Ringling Barnum and Baily Circus. She survived but spent years recovering. Her last job was with Jungle Land in California. After she was fired from this job, she committed suicide.
Snake Ladies and Others
Circus sideshows often featured "snake charmers," or handlers, and many of these were women. In some cases, the snakes were toothless, benign creatures to begin with, but audiences did not seem to care. The sight of scantily clad women stroking and lifting large snakes was worth whatever they paid.
The Lesser-Knowns and Unknowns
Some of my favorite images of women and animals raise questions that cannot be answered. For example, who is this woman and why is she holding a live porcupine? Is it a pet? A trophy? We will probably never know.
Return to home page.