Vulcana: Welsh Wonder Woman. I don’t need to say more. Of course she’s a badass.
Miriam Kate Williams is believed to have been born on May 6, 1874 in Abergavenny, Wales, the daughter of an Irish baptist minister and his wife, though details of her biography are somewhat foggy. However, there are several reports of Kate’s strength in her youth. At age thirteen or fourteen she allegedly stopped a runaway horse that was dragging a woman and baby in Bristol, England. On one occasion, she carried around her school’s organ. In 1890 she began training with a group of athletes under gymnasium owner William Hedley Roberts, later known as Atlas. The group performed at several fêtes, and before performing in Pontypool, Wales a group member fell ill, with fifteen-year-old Kate Williams stepping in to take their place. She was such a success that she became a professional strong woman from then on out. As Kate and William became the focus of the group, they adopted the names Vulcana and Atlas. Their troupe was billed as The Atlas & Vulcana Society of Athletes.
She was then 15, and is now hardly out of her teens. Miss Roberts has won all the championships for women during the past eight years, and has secured 120 medals in competitions for strength. She juggles with a 56lb dumb-bell in each hand, uses a 2241b bar bell, and can raise and hold above her head at arm’s length a man weighing ever 12 stone.”– An excerpt from an article from 1902 in the Carmarthen Weekly Reporter
Vulcana, at 5′ 4”, was a wrestler, swimmer, and fencer, in addition to her weight lifting. She specialized particularly in lifting men as part of her act, able to do so with one hand. She and Atlas performed as brother and sister, though at some point they became a couple, despite Atlas being married, with his wife and children back in Wales. Atlas and Vulcana had six children together, but were able to continue their careers as a double act without their relationship being discovered nor any scandals. Though they were not able to marry due to Atlas’s existing marriage, by performing as brother and sister she was able to use his surname. Their children eventually joined The Atlas & Vulcana Society of Athletes as well.
Vulcana has numerous legends surrounding her remarkable life, including breaking up bar brawls and jumping into a river to save two boys from drowning. One substantiated legend is that she ran into a fire to save horses at the Garrick Theatre in 1921. Another has it that she disguised herself and went to the circus; when the audience was asked for a volunteer to wrestle a local man, Vulcana lifted him above her head and threw him down. Two particularly satisfying stories were reported by Vulcana herself. A man attempted to steal her purse in London, and she nearly broke his hand. In Birmingham, a man attempted to steal her watch off of her wrist, and she responded with a fist to his jaw. What a fierce lady.
The troupe retired in 1932. In 1939, Vulcana was hit by a car in London and suffered from a traumatic brain injury, after which Atlas focused on caring for her. Atlas died in 1946 at the age of 83, and Vulcana died just three months later, at the age of 72.