At the turn of the twentieth century, most Americans celebrated the arrival of a circus. Circus Day had become a local holiday that brought together ethnicities, races, and classes (of both genders) that did not usually assemble at the same place and time. Within the circus itself, however, race and gender provided boundaries and fostered acrimony. The racism and segregation of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries could be found aboard any circus train and throughout every show lot. African Americans were relegated to certain jobs, segregated within those jobs, and usually paid less than their white counterparts. The show's scheduled route often took them into areas in which they experienced the racial volatility typical of the era. Although the public perception of circus employment often produced thoughts of travel and fun adventures, African American circusfolk endured harsh treatment, low pay, and vile racism.
For African Americans, the work environment at a circus reflected the national social atmosphere, but female circus employees encountered conditions that most other women were not afforded. Indeed, female employees were confined to one or two train cars and lived under specific rules about when (or even if) they could entertain guests. Yet circus employment provided women with the ability to leave the restraints of the home during the height of Victorian domesticity, as well as the even rarer opportunity to outearn their male counterparts. Moreover, employment under the big top gave circuswomen a public platform to advocate for suffrage.