Mathilde Jagemann of Vienna stands as the single most important person in the development of women’s fencing in the United States.
As the leader of a Viennese Operatic Company under the tutelage of Professor Hartl, she startled audiences around New York, Boston, Chicago, Denver and San Francisco in the late 1880s. Reporters wrote of the “furor” these ladies created in New York, and that they had turned fencing into a “fashionable fad:” Miss Jagemann led demonstrations in New York City for the Fencers’ Club and the Harvard Club. These demonstrations prompted coaches around the city to begin Fencing Classes for Women. Her skills with “the Foils”, rapier and dagger, and the broadsword (saber) were astonishing to those who witnessed her skill. Jagemann, “a large brunette who towered over others” was challenged to duels by men around the country. One such duel was documented by the Denver Post on April 23, 1889. Theodore Rosenberg, decorated for bravery in the Austro-Prussian War and known as an expert fencer, bet $500 that he could defeat Miss Jagemann. Miss Jagemann accepted the challenge of a duel with sharp rapiers. Both of them bloodied badly after 3 innings of battle, Mathilde Jagemann was declared the winner by Mr. Rosenberg. Despite her wounds from the duel with Rosenberg, loss of blood, and high altitude, Miss Jagemann went on stage that night and performed her fencing act as usual and even won a prize of $75 for “the best lady fencer of the evening.” It was a memorable opening for Jerome Wheeler’s opera house.