A look at the Roubaix Athletic club in Northern France, circa 1906. This club had an excellent assortment of globe dumbbells and an equally excellent assortment of strongman posters on the walls — look closely, you’ll find The Rasso Trio, Apollon, Sampson and Cyclops, John Grunn Marx and Batta. A number of famous “names” trained there, including Jules Parent, Athleta, Noel Le Gaulois, Pierre Bonnes, Batta, Charles Poire, Felix Bernard and Constant le Bouche.
There weren’t many performing “strongwomen” …but there were a few, one of the greatest of whom was Athleta Van Huffelen, of Belgium. In the late 1800’s, her solo act at the Eden Alhambra Theater in Brussels caused quite a stir in the strength world as she performed feats that, at the time, were thought all but impossible for a woman. Athleta lifted barrels, bent horseshoes and spikes, and, as shown above, danced a waltz while supporting three men and a loaded barbell on her shoulders. The French strength historian Professor Desbonnet had never seen anything like it, so much so that he listed Athleta among the great strength athletes in his classic book “The Kings of Strength.”