Early Illinois Women

Julia Lowande, Circus Performer

Julia Lowande, Ringling Brothers poster, 1901

Julia Lowande, Ringling Route Book, 1897

Julia Lowande Shipp

Text by Steve Gossard, Curator, ISU Circus Collection

Ed Shipp described his wife's early life traveling with circuses throughout Latin America for a Daily Pantagraph reporter December 15, 1898; "As a child she traveled across Cuba in a bull-cart sleeping in cowhide hammocks and being nearly devoured by fleas and mosquitoes. She has ridden on the back of a mule over the mountains of Venezuela from LaGuira to Caracas, a task far different from standing on the back of a galloping horse in the circus ring..." The Lowande family circus toured the Southern Hemisphere of America extensively in the 1860s and 1870s, and Julia Lowande's career began at birth. She established a reputation for herself as a first-class equestrienne at an early age.

Ed Shipp met Julia Lowande through his half-brother, Harry Lamkin, who was an accomplished acrobat and juggler. Harry had married Julia's half-sister, Clarinda, in the mid 1870s. Harry and Clarinda had returned to his home town of Petersburg, Illinois for the winter months a number of times in the 1870s, and in 1880 he built a training barn there. Harry taught Ed the art of trick horseback riding, and Ed became acquainted with the great Lowande family of horseback riders, many of whom settled in Petersburg to use Harry's practice facilities. Petersburg soon became one of the most significant training centers for circus performers in the country.

In 1885, Lamkin entered into a partnership with Frank Gardner, a great horseback rider and leaper from Galesburg, Illinois, and another performer named James Donovan, in a circus which they took to Central and South America. His partnership with these two gentlemen lasted until Harry's death at Colon, Panama in 1886. At this time, Ed Shipp became the proprietor of the winter quarters at Petersburg, and he began presenting circus performances in the barn, drawing an audience of local residents twice a week throughout the winter months. He and Julia Lowande were married in 1889. Ed quit horseback riding after taking a number of serious falls from the horse, and he assumed the job of equestrian director for the Ringling Brothers Corporation in 1895. He and Julia worked for many years with various Ringling owned circuses. They continued presenting their winter circus in Petersburg until 1907, when Ed formed a circus which he took to Central and South America and the West Indies. Ed and his partner, Roy Feltus, of Bloomington, Indiana, organized the most successful circus to tour the Latin American countries from the early 1900s into the 1930s.

Throughout her life Julia Lowande Shipp was known as one of the finest equestriennes in the business, and her career took her throughout the Western Hemisphere. In the 1870s she was a young star with her father's circus in the Latin American countries. From the 1880s through the early 1900s she was the principal equestrienne with several of the great Ringling Brothers' shows. Her family and professional ties helped to make Petersburg, Illinois one of the most important winter practice sites in North America, and from the 1900s into the 1930s she was the featured performer with Gran Circo Shipp and Feltus traveling the entire breadth of the South American continent.

Major sources:
Draper, John Daniel; The Lowande Family of Riders; Bandwagon; Jul.-Aug. 1996
Basso, Louise; The Story of the Ring Barn; unpublished, courtesy of the Menard County Historical Society
Various issues of the New York Clipper, Billboard and the Saulk County Democrat of Baraboo, Wisconsin. 1870s through 1940s
Special thanks to Helen Bourque, granddaughter of Alec G. Lowande, of Petersburg, Illinois

Contributing Library:

Milner Library, Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois

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