Sandwina was born Catherine Brumbach in Bavaria in 1884, the second eldest of fourteen children of a circus family. Both her parents performed feats of strength and it was little wonder that Sandwina should follow them.
Her father would offer one hundred marks to any man who could defeat her at wrestling and none succeeded. But it did win her a husband. Max Heymann was a struggling acrobat who accepted her challenge. He was a good six inches shorter than Sandwina and weighed considerably less and though he lost, they were married two years later.
The couple developed an act in which Sandina would play the part of a soldier and whirl Max above and around her head as if he were her rifle.
She earned the name Sandwina in New York in the early 1900s when she defeated the famous strongman Eugene Sandow in a weight-lifting contest. She lifted a 300-pound barbell above her head while Sandow could only raise it to his chest, Sandwina being the female derivative of Sandow.
Sandwina was billed as ‘Europe’s Queen of Strength and Beauty’ and she would twist iron bars into spirals, break chains with her bare hands, juggle cannonballs and supported a 1,200-pound cannon on her shoulders. She even lay on a bed of nails while volunteers used sledgehammers to hit an anvil balanced on her chest.
In 1909, she gave birth to her son, Teddy, who was nicknamed Superbaby by the press because the strapping lad weighed in at fifty pounds when he was two years old.
Despite her size, Sandwina was described as beautiful and feminine with supple curves and arms smooth enough to look good in a ball gown. She had joined Ringling Bros and Barnum and Bailey’s Circus and earned up to $1,500 a week. And in 1912 she became the Vice President of the suffrage group at the circus.
Sandwina continued with her act until she retired at the age of sixty-four when she and Max opened a restaurant. She died in New York in 1952. Her son, Teddy, became a heavyweight boxer in the 1920s and 30s, while her youngest son, Alfred, became an actor appearing on stage and tv, including on The Phil Silvers Show.