Library of Congress


The Library of Congress > Teachers > Classroom Materials > Lesson Plans > American Lives in Two Centuries

Back to Lesson Plans

Letters from an American farmer

[Detail] Letters from an American Farmer

Sample Biography

Maude Cromwell is an American.

Maude Cromwell is a woman of 42, with bleached blonde hair, heavily mascaraed blue eyes and vulgarly rouged cheeks. Her speech suggests a woman who has seen much of the world, but has not spent much time in the classroom.

A working woman of Irish ancestry, she has lived an adventurous life as a trapeze artist. Although short in areas often measured as "success"--she has no children and her professional life has been interrupted by serious workplace accidents--Maude seems content with her station in life. With her husband, Maude now has a home on Long Island that boasts a yard large enough to accommodate a garden she loves and a trapeze that enables she and her husband to "keep in shape."

Maude was but a teenager when she met and married her husband, a fellow acrobat. After short stints with local fairs, they embarked on a peripatetic career with Ringling Brothers circus. For fourteen years, they plied their trade on high wires in cities and towns across the country.

Life with the circus was a good life. The company provided performers, like Maude and her husband, with all the necessities of life--separate berths juiced with electricity, family-style meals in the "privilege-car," protection by the circus' own police force, and even Sunday outings, like picnics and golf. Maude notes that she much preferred her circus lifestyle to vaudeville, where she periodically found work over the years. While vaudeville paid a higher salary, the circus took care of its performers much better.

Maude has not enjoyed an easy life. Trapeze artists face challenges few professionals face; and Maude has suffered periodic accidents. Most seriously, she endured a 9-week hospital stay after a 40-foot fall during a performance. This fall seems not to have have soiled her view of life; in fact, she playfully suggests that falling is part of the act, and sometimes an accidental fall feels exactly like the fall in well-executed air-borne tumbles. Maude certainly feels no rancor toward her employer for her misfortune, accepting it as the price you pay for practicing such a wonderful trade.

Source: Circus People. Oral history. From Library of Congress, American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940.