A Woman to Know: Mabel Stark

They may be planting violets on me tomorrow, but while I have my health and strength, I'd rather take care of 10 tigers than a sick person. — Mabel Stark

(image via The Library of Congress)


Mabel devoted 60 years of her life to tigers.

Throughout the 1930s, she worked as a performer in multiple circuses, first as a dancer and then as an animal trainer. Then she started working as an animal trainer at Jungleland, an amusement park in California, where she drew crowds impressed by her her own daring feats of strength (in one famous performance series, she even wrestled tigers on command).

"For me, there is no greater thrill than stepping into a cageful of glorious beasts and matching wits with them," Mabel wrote in her autiobiography, "Hold That Tiger."

But after hundreds of shows (and stitches), Mabel's life with tigers came to an end — and then, so did her life.

Jungleland fired her when she turned 80, and then a few months later, one of Mabel's beloved big cats, Goldie, escaped from the park. When the owners found the tiger, they shot her on sight, sending Mabel into a deep depression. She took her own life later that year.

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