This is one of a series of posts observing Women’s History Month.
Madame Eliza Dockrill was hailed as the greatest equestrienne of her age, popularly known as “The Empress of the Arena”. Born Elise Kennebel she married Irish horseman Richard Dockrill. The two rode together first as a “French” equestrian act in Howe’s Great American Circus and Menagerie in London in 1870. Over the ensuing decades they performed for P.T. Barnum and many others, as well as in their own shows. It seems that Dockrill evolved into an equestrian director (as opposed to performer), showcasing his wife whom nearly every contemporary account lauds as “one of the best riders I ever saw”. She was sometimes billed as “Mlle” (as opposed to Madame) and Elise (later enhanced to the more continental sounding “Eliza”.) Among her notable stunts is the one mentioned on this poster, a $10,000 “challenge” for anyone in the audience to duplicate her feats of horsemanship. She could also ride four bareback horses simultaneously and manage a tandem team of seven. The Dockrills’ daughter Rose was also an equestrienne; she performed until her death in 1920.
To find out more about the variety arts past and present, consult No Applause, Just Throw Money: The Book That Made Vaudeville Famous, available at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and wherever nutty books are sold. And don’t miss Chain of Fools: Silent Comedy and Its Legacies from Nickelodeons to Youtube, to be released by Bear Manor Media in 2013.