On this date in 1879, Ada Anderson completed a great feat of pedestrianism (endurance walking) in Mozart Gardens in Brooklyn: 2700 quarter miles in 2700 quarter hours. She started on 16 December 1878 and finished on 13 January 1879, and during that entire time was not allowed rest periods longer than 20 minutes. Nothing so grueling had ever been attempted before, although she and others had done somewhat shorter events of the kind before. I don’t know if it has ever been replicated. She was one of a handful of female athletes who are largely forgotten now, but were extremely important in their day in pressing for equal rights for women.
Anderson was born Ada Nymand, but very little about her early life is known, including her birth date. Her father Gustavas Nymand was reported to be a ‘Cockney Jew’ and the identity of her mother is not known. She left home at 16 to join a theater company and five years later married the man whose name she was most commonly known by. She claimed to have been a singer, clown, and theater proprietress, with a childhood ambition to be famous by accomplishing something no one else could do. Having struggled to make a name for herself as an actress Anderson and her husband became managers of a theatre in Cardiff. But in 1877 her husband died, leaving her on the brink of bankruptcy.
Anderson’s interest in pedestrianism started in 1877 when she met British champion racewalker William Gale at an event in Cardiff. Unlike other working-class pedestrians, such as Emma Sharp who claimed to do no formal training, Anderson was trained by Gale who specialized both in pedestrianism and sleep deprivation. After training for six weeks with Gale, Anderson made her pedestrian debut in Newport, Wales in September 1877. She walked 1,000 half-miles in 1,000 half-hours and got no more than 20 minutes rest at one time during the entire three-week trial. There were several days of rain which required her to walk with an umbrella and a lamp, but this did not prevent her from finishing.
Her second walk was planned to be 1,250 half-miles in 1,000 half-hours in Exeter, October 1877, which would break a record of 1,000 miles in 1,000 hours set by Captain Robert Barclay, but that had to be abandoned when a storm blew in. This did not deter Anderson and Gale, and they were able to accomplish that feat in Plymouth later that year. In addition to breaking the distance record by 250 miles, by starting each 1¼ mile at the beginning of the hour (rather than completing two consecutive miles as Barclay did) Anderson completed the event with much shorter rest periods. After this event Anderson was referred to in the press as a ‘Champion Lady Walker of the World’.
Anderson’s first indoor event was a 100-mile 28-hour walk, again in Plymouth. However, the pollution from gas lamps and cigars gave Anderson problems breathing. After falling a number of times, she collapsed unconscious after completing 96 miles. Following this failure Anderson went to the press and claimed she would “never take on another event she would not finish.” She completed 1,344 quarter-miles in the same number of quarter-hours in Plymouth and 1.5 miles every hour for 28 days in Boston before attempting to equal Gale’s record of 1,500 miles in 1,000 hours. Anderson started the event on 8 April 1878 and finished on 20 May 1878. Two days later, she got married for the second time to William Paley, who was in theater.
After completing three more walks during the summer of 1878, Anderson established herself as the dominant pedestrian in the UK. Therefore, on 13 October 1878, with the aim of making a name for herself in the US, Anderson, Paley, her manager J. H. Webb and her assistant Elizabeth Sparrow sailed on the steamship Ethiopia.
Anderson’s manager, Webb, wanted to launch her US debut (2,700 quarter-miles in 2,700 quarter-hours) in Glimore’s Garden (which later became Madison Square Garden). However, William Kissam Vanderbilt, the venue’s owner rejected their request claiming, “The woman will never accomplish the feat and nor can any woman.” This led Webb to approach Mozart Garden, a smaller venue in Brooklyn which was refurbished for the event, reducing the seating from 2,000 to 800 to make way for a track which was surrounded by an 18-inch railing and measured by Brooklyn’s city surveyor to ensure accuracy. The venue was so small that the track was only 189 feet in circumference, requiring Anderson to walk seven laps to complete each quarter of a mile. A ‘privacy tent’ was built for Anderson to use during her short rest periods containing a bed and a makeshift kitchen including a stove. Walking 2,700 quarter-miles in so many quarter-hours was an accomplishment never attempted by any person before in the US, requiring an ability to endure severe sleep deprivation, leading the champion US pedestrian Daniel O’Leary to state that he would never attempt it.
The event was so popular that the spectator fee was raised from 25 cents to 50 cents after 23 days of the event had been completed (with 5 to go). By the final day of the event, ticket prices were $1 for standing and $2 for reserved seating. As many as 4,000 people per day came to see Anderson during the event which started at 8pm on 16th December 1878. She completed the event at 11pm on 13th January 1879 to a venue so packed that police had to prevent additional spectators. Many of the spectators were women whom it was reported regarded Anderson as ‘the most wonderful of their sex’.
There were numerous checks and judges to ensure the integrity of the event, and doctors who checked on Anderson concluded that she had trained herself to cope with sleep deprivation, since she had no more than nine minutes sleep at a time during the entire 28-day event. 55 miles into the event Anderson played the piano and sang Verdi’s “Back to Our Mountains” during her rest period and became known for such entertainment during the walk. Over the next few weeks she continued to entertain the crowds with impromptu singing and speeches. Anderson had a number of celebrities come and walk with her during the event including 75-year-old boxer Bill Tovec, General Tom Thumb and Texas Jack. She also entertained the crowd by marking the faces of sleeping spectators with coal. Because of the heavy wagers on the completion of the event, Anderson required protection in the final days of the walk. There were reports of attempted gassing with chloroform although Anderson denied this. With only half a mile to go Anderson sang ‘Nil Desperandum’ to the crowd before completing her penultimate lap. She completed her final quarter of a mile in 2 minutes 37 seconds the fastest of all 2,700. The total receipts of the event were reported to be $32,000 of which Anderson’s personal share was reported to be $8,000.
When asked by reporters about fatigue, Anderson claimed her biggest problem was often with blisters and the pain of them preventing her sleeping. However, the sleep deprivation became apparent even within the first two days where she had periods of stumbling through the walk in an almost semi-conscious state before appearing as lively as she was at the start a few hours later. In these sleepy periods her assistant, Sparrow, had to prepare her to walk at the three-minute warning bell and on occasion had to send her back to the track when she hadn’t completed the required seven laps. After 100 miles, the regular check by the a physician noted she had a temperature of 99 °F (37 °C), pulse 78-80 with her only complaints badly blistered feet and mental anxiety interfering with sleep. Mike Henry, Anderson’s coach, who walked with her for much of the event was not in such good health, and with blisters covering his feet and suffering from exhaustion and dizziness he had to retire, being replaced by one of the race judges Charles Hazelton. Anderson ate at almost every rest time unless she was sleeping and her diet included beef, oysters, corned beef, potatoes, cakes, and grapes, she drank beef tea, port wine and occasionally champagne.
Local magistrates in Boston, UK, objected to walking events on Sundays believing that they corrupted morals. However Anderson found support in the local mayor who claimed that Boston was ‘more moral than Plymouth’ where Anderson had last walked on a Sunday. The New York Times was also critical of Anderson’s journey stating it had no “skill” attributes” and the sport “leads people to bet on any absurd performance of uncertain issue.” There were others who claimed that it was cruelty for a woman to be put through such suffering, and claims during her walk in Chicago that her husband coerced her. To these criticisms Anderson responded, “I am walking against my husband’s wishes.” Reverend W. C. Steele of the Third St. Methodist Church published sermons in a number of newspapers criticizing pedestrianism for a number of reasons, including event walking on a Sunday.
Given Anderson’s published diet for the event I would certainly have a nice steak and oysters on the half shell if I could get hold of them here in Cambodia. I need to be back in Argentina for the steak, and anywhere but SE Asian waters for raw oysters. Anyway . . . have at it. Or try Mrs Beeton’s beef and oyster sauce. In this case “oyster sauce” is, of course, not the Asian variety, but her own recipe made with fresh oysters. I don’t think it’s quite clear that the beef is sliced cold, but you could broil the beef while cooking the oysters and slice (and serve) it hot.
BROILED BEEF AND OYSTER SAUCE (Cold Meat Cookery).
- INGREDIENTS.—2 dozen oysters, 3 cloves, 1 blade of mace, 2 oz. of butter, 1/2 teaspoonful of flour, cayenne and salt to taste, mashed potatoes, a few slices of cold roast beef.
Mode.—Put the oysters in a stewpan, with their liquor strained; add the cloves, mace, butter, flour, and seasoning, and let them simmer gently for 5 minutes. Have ready in the centre of a dish round walls of mashed potatoes, browned; into the middle pour the oyster sauce, quite hot, and round the potatoes place, in layers, slices of the beef, which should be previously broiled over a nice clear fire.
Time.—5 minutes. Average cost, 1s, 6d., exclusive of the cold meat.