American nineteenth century burlesque provided strong-minded women with a means of expressing themselves on the stage - and in many ways such acts can be seen as part of the fight for equality, refusing to be prissy and prim at home and often proclaiming political views.

The following series of photographs have been collected by Charles H McCaghy, a professor emeritus at Bowling Green State University, Ohio. They were taken in the 1890's and, by some historical accounts, the sight of these ample bosoms and thighs drove men into frenzies of passion, whilst those of a more restrained character considered that such actresses were little better than prostitutes.

But, the VV might dare to speculate that the most likely fun going on after shows involved the somewhat less scandalous vice of copious eating and drinking - going by the buxom shapes that appear in the following display.


  1. How fun to see all these photos. Yes, there are some voluptuous figures here. I liked your comment about their eating and drinking after shows. Tee hee hee!

  2. I was very interested in the acts being seen as part of the fight for equality, especially if the women on stage were clearly proclaiming political views. Is there evidence that the actresses thought of themselves as activists?

  3. So curious how the ideas of beauty changed in the 20's - once the voluptuous was the norm, fertility and femininity captured in an hourglass - those Flappers with their boyish figures have a lot to answer for! :)

    also, the corset makes clothes look nice, but on it's own it tends to squash the figure in an unfortunate way ( like squeezing a tube of tooth paste!) - nice small waist but overflowing else where

  4. It is amazing how fashion changes so much in one culture in such a short time as well as the concept of beauty and allure.

    I would say that the very fact that these women paraded themselves ~ and their shapes ~at a time when that would be deemed outrageous in most 'proper social circles' was in itself a statement if intent: we are are not ashamed of what we are and are as strong in body and mind as men! Clearly there was also an element of the exhibitionist but coming as they did at a time when women were becoming more radicalised with hopes for universal suffrage I think there was something more going on than a simple artistic display. I will try to go into this in more detail in the next post.

    And then there are the flappers, and surely that was more than just fashion too, coming as it did after the war when views on male v female roles (the classic Victorian family and national ideals) had been so tragically compromised. Almost as if women were deliberately playing down the more overtly feminine corseted shape in favour of a more manly figure that tallied with the new-found 'equality'.

    1. Nice comment VV.

      There was still a fair bit of corsetry in the 20's apparently, just a different desired shape, but I suppose women's dress changed also from lack of time with all the new requirements of 'equality'.

      The effort of Victorian dressing, the layers and codes of different items that proved socially one was a Virtuous Victorian, must have been exhausting, and probably more a sign of class to appear so, having a maid etc to do so - so I suppose stripping those layers off for our Burlesque beauties has the added meaning of tearing off those expectations of virtuousness and how titillating it would have been for audiences to see those layers removed.

      Also transgressive is the fact that most of the images are showing women in breeches roles/ or versions of male attire - as if by wearing the opposite gender's clothes it only adds to their allure?

  5. So wonderful! The first two are my favourites and I love the second ladies head dress. Their buxom shapes are very inspiring for modern day curvy ladies like me. ;)

  6. Thank you Kelly-Marie. I love the horse one too.