Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Library of America Story of the Week Read-Along 155: Red Smith, The Strongest Lady in the World (#194)

Red Smith, "The Strongest Lady in the World" (1950) from American Pastimes: The Very Best of Red Smith:

This Red Smith piece gives us a quick view of a bodybuilder woman and her booster(/boyfriend). Dorcas Lehman is presented as something of a freak and as something of an "ordinary" woman. Although she belongs to a Pennsylvania Dutch group known for somber dress, she wears red (and make-up!) just like a mainstream woman; although she is freakishly strong and uses her strength to intimidate men who make trouble in her bar, she also just likes to buy shoes--just like an "ordinary" woman. She'll tell you her age (how freakish!), but she'll look down at her hands in her lap when she's bring talked about (how normal!).

The other strong personality in this piece is Bob Hoffman, proprietor of the York Barbell Company and big talker. Hoffman seems to be put into the position of carnival barker to Lehman's freakshow, listing all of her great capabilities. The LoA page expands on Hoffman as a big supporter of weightlifting and bodybuilding; and also as a man far ahead of his time in terms of prejudice. Not only did he support Lehman's bodybuilding, but he trained and managed a whole stable of weightlifters of any nationality, ethnicity, and religion.

But still, most of this piece seems to be Red Smith trying to make sense of Dorcas Lehman's odd position: so feminine, but strong.

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