The Barnum & Bailey show created quite a stir during the 1895 season with Josephine Mathews (also sometimes labeled as Williams in the press) aka Evetta, The Lady Clown. That season Barnum & Bailey had a strong female presence and the posters also announced a master of ceremonies, Millie Dunbar.
Here’s a snippet of an interview that Evetta made in 1896, it gives a great insight into that period of time and how woman in Circus and society were seen and also how they themselves saw society. “My reason for becoming a clown, said Miss Williams, the only female clown on earth according to the circus’s bills, was to make money. My father was a clown for 40 years, he was on the Barnum and Bailey show. He had 21 children, and they were all in this business in one way or another, usually like acrobats etc:, my three brothers were clowns, and they used to come to me for ideas. Being an acrobat, it’s a hard job so my father thought he would make me a clown and he would use the suggestions that I gave them” Evetta clearly had a creative imagination and was developing new work, skits and business. This is another clipping from a Barnum & Bailey newspaper dated 1896 where “Evetta” takes more about being a female clown and her creativity. “There are 12 of our family now in the circus business. Father has retired. He has a small public house near London. In the winter I go there and help him. This is my first trip to America. I believe that a woman can do anything in life that a man can do, and do it as well as a man. All my people laughed at me when I told them I was going to enter the ring as a clown. But now they do not laugh, when they see that I can keep a commitment all the time and earn as much or more money than they can in other branches of the business. They pay me for my ideas. Every day I try to think of something new, and the management usually gives me a lot of breadth. My first commitment was with an English circus in the provinces. I made a stroke and managed to enter the racecourse in Paris. I was there for two years. Then I went back to London and did pantomime work. But I liked the circus work better. The main difficulty is to make people listen. But, then, nobody listens to what a clown says. Everything depends on the antics. I am a sensible player and I manage to get along well. I’ll probably stop in this business until I get married. Of course, I hope to get married someday every woman does. But I do not believe in women who stay in the business after they get married, although the rule in a circus seems to be the other way around. These bareback riders and trapeze artists have husbands or brothers over the building somewhere. That is why the standard of morality in the circus is much better than it is in the theater. That’s a fact.”