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Friday, March 08, 2019

Women's History Month: Saluting nameless women farriers from the past

The oldest image in the Hoofcare and Lameness archives is this engraving from France. The title at the bottom translates roughly to: "To shoe the mule the people are usually intelligent." (Corrections are welcome.) Script at the top states that women understand that the mule responds to caresses more than to force. Image from the University of Texas library archives.

It's International Women's Day. The Internet is buzzing with salutes and tributes and memories of famous women and their contributions to history. While the Hoof Blog honors women today, as everyday, the archive has been opened so we can salute some anonymous women instead of famous ones.



Women farriers are not much of a news item around here. In most areas of the United States and Canada, at least, the idea of a woman farrier is accepted; they have proved themselves and make a wonderful independent living, while contributing greatly to the overall advancement of the farrier profession and the well-being of horses. Hopefully, women in other countries enjoy the same acceptance and success.

Modern history shows women blazing the trail back in the 1970s. Women like Allie Hayes, Ada Gates, Carol Sakowski, Annie Claxton, Toni Hanna and others worked their way to respect and prosperity--the hard way.

But they weren't the first. Names survive like Henriette Tournier, Elizabeth Arnold, Martha Drew Smith, May Wilcox, Mary Ann Hinman and many more.

Yet many more are shown, but not identified. Thanks to Getty Images for their amazing archives, where many of these mysterious images were sourced.

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Above: Twin sisters Carine and Nellie Blair are described as "Daughters of Vulcan", but that's all we know. Maybe someone knows more about them?


Written history of women farriers is almost non-existent, but there are newspaper and magazine articles documenting that they were known to exist in the 19th and early 20th centuries.  Random images of women farriers crop up from time to time as Facebook memes or novelty shares. These images lost their captions years ago, if they ever had any, and it is difficult, if not impossible, to identify the women. (If you can, please get in touch!)

Some of these women may have been posed under a horse or at the anvil, and not have been farriers at all. Looking at the shoes and makeup is usually a giveaway, or the way they hold the hammer, but they also might have dressed up because a photographer was coming to visit.


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This one was taken in the horse hospital of a haulage contractor in 1916, halfway through World War I. No names are given, but it's a great propaganda image.

The British government documented a great many scenes of women either shoeing horses or looking like they were shoeing them, to inspire the war effort. Here, they have removed a shoe from a heavy horse.

Notice they are not wearing pants and their legs are covered. The woman holding the horse wears a long skirt, or perhaps a sidesaddle habit. The woman under the horse has her legs wrapped in "puttees" bandages; leather was scarce and expensive so short paddock-type boots were worn in the military and, in this case, at home in England. The woman on the right wears a version of what we'd call half chaps. They are all wearing dusters, which were worn also by grooms in stables to keep their clothes clean so changing was kept at a minimum.

Embed from Getty Images

I've always been suspicious of this one. It look like a movie set--or else someone had plenty of time to prepare for the photographer. The data on this photo says only that it was taken in 1920. The photography agency that licenses it is British. Perhaps she really was a farrier, and had time to fix her hair and makeup for the photo session.

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An American woman posed with a western horse. The hoisted stirrup seems authentic; you wouldn't want to keep hitting your head on it, if you were forced to shoe a horse when it was tacked up. Her hair is lovely but surely her carefully-coiffed bun would have fallen out when she leaned over.

And how do you hold a horse's hoof between your knees if you're wearing a long skirt and apron like this? The Blair twins had the right idea with their pantaloons. This woman seems to be saying, "How long do you want me to hold this foot up?"

Embed from Getty Images

Here's an anonymous husband and wife team working together in 1930 in Wolverhampton, England. I wonder how often she wore those shoes to work in the forge? It is possible that she dressed up for the photo session. The forge looks authentic, although it is very tidy.

Embed from Getty Images

Finally, this is my favorite; I saved the best for last. These women aren't even trying to be authentic. They just are. This is a street scene in France in 1928, the year Ernest Hemingway was in Paris writing A Farewell to Arms. The onlooker in the cap reminded me of him; I imagine Hemingway coming upon scenes like this one.

The two women are wearing matching plaid skirts; my original theory was that this is their horse and they had brought it to a farrier to be shod.

The woman on the left has an apron on; the man next to her does not.

These women seem determined. Intrepid. The horse needs a shoe on its near hind, too, so they are far from done.

Over the years, I've had many theories about this image. Maybe they were just walking down the street and saw a farrier struggling with a heavy horse and offered to help.

One thing did not occur to me: maybe they are the farriers and the fellow has brought his horse to them to be shod.

It bothered me that this photo seems to be trying to tell a story but I couldn't read it.

After I wrote and published this article, I remembered that I have other photos of women farriers in France wearing skirts and flimsy shoes. I went looking for them. One was sourced from Finland and another from England, but there is no doubt about one thing: they are all the same woman who is shown on the left in this photo.

One of my nameless women farriers now has a name because the other photos of her are documented. They were all taken the same day. The sidewalk shoer is Henriette Tournier of Champigny-sur-Marne, a suburb of Paris.

I don't know why she shoes horses in a skirt and wears flimsy flat shoes around a huge draft horse like that but, that's Paris. And now I know who she is.



Perhaps the French women on the street drew some strength from Marianne, their national symbol. Shown on postage stamps and on coins, she is the Goddess of Liberty, the voice of French reason and the maternal personification of the national spirit; every town in France has a statue of Marianne.

Some say Marianne was the inspiration for the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor and, more recently, for Wonder Woman. This poster shows her at the anvil, perhaps smashing a symbolic sword into a plowshare to rebuild France after the war. There is often an anvil somewhere in images of her.

• • • • • 

There is no history of women farriers, but there were plenty of women farriers in history. Some of them were legendary, and their names have survived. Their stories should be told and they should not be forgotten.

But the names of many are lost because their photos were a novelty and what mattered to the newspapers was that a woman worked in a non-traditional job--who she was didn't matter.

Even today, farriers often go unidentified and do their work anonymously. Researching any aspect of farrier history can be a frustrating experience.

Still, these faces in old photographs make us wonder about them. The Hoof Blog salutes the women whose names were lost but whose faces are still with us. Let's not let them be forgotten again.

Watch for more history of women farriers--the ones with names--this month on The Hoof Blog. March is Women's History Month.


© Fran Jurga and Hoofcare Publishing; Fran Jurga's Hoof Blog is the news service for Hoofcare and Lameness Publishing. Please, no re-use of text or images on other sites or social media without permission--please link instead. (Please ask if you need help.) The Hoof Blog may be read online at the blog page, checked via RSS feed, or received via a headlines-link email (requires signup in box at top right of blog page). Use the little envelope symbol below to email this article to others. The "translator" tool in the right sidebar will convert this article (roughly) to the language of your choice. To share this article on Facebook and other social media, click on the small symbols below the labels. Be sure to "like" the Hoofcare and Lameness Facebook page and click on "get notifications" under the page's "like" button to keep up with the hoof news on Facebook. Questions or problems with the Hoof Blog? Click here to send an email hoofblog@gmail.com.  
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2 comments:

Unknown said...

Thanks for a great article. And yes even today many women farriers do our work anonymously (except to our clients), as even in 2019 there are many who still don't like,support or accept woman in the field.

Ada Gates Patton said...

I love the women in high heels and dresses! Amazing. Great article, thank you, Fran, as always.
Ada Gates Patton