Historically, women have often shied away from practicing magic… at least publicly. Mere rumors of witchcraft and sorcery were enough to get them shunned, or worse! Even in the early 20th century, it wasn’t particularly safe for women to travel the country on their own, as many professional magicians did.
Today, the magic field continues to be dominated by men, and female magicians remain relatively rare. And while you can still occasionally see beautiful assistants contorting into boxes or being sawed in half, those assistants do lots of work for little glory.
The good news is, more and more women are seizing the spotlight. In 2013, the Atlantic estimated the number of women magicians at 3 to 8 percent. Today, job site Zippia sets it at 13.3%.
For Women’s History Month, I thought I’d pay homage to TWO women who shattered the magic glass ceiling. Then, I’ll celebrate some of the best female magicians working today, whose magic you can see RIGHT NOW.
Icons from the Past:
Queen of Magic, Adelaide Herrmann
The talent and perseverance of Adelaide Herrmann cannot be overstated. Adelaide was born in Britain in 1853, to a father who co-established The Egyptian Hall. She was a natural Vaudevillian, trained as a dancer, aerial acrobat, trick-bicycle rider, bullet-catcher, and human cannonball. Re-read that paragraph, I dare you.
Adelaide initially teamed up with her husband, Herrmann the Great (aka Alexander Herrmann), traveling the world as his onstage assistant. They were incredibly successful.
Alexander Herrmann was a living legend in magic, and the main rival to Kellar, but he wasn’t the best with money. After his death, which left Adelaide in great debt, she took over the act to remain solvent. For a quarter of a century, she headlined her own productions to great acclaim. A powerhouse behind the scenes and in front of audiences, Adelaide continued re-working and re-inventing her show until the age of 74.
Goddess of Mystery, Ionia
Ionia’s story is almost too crazy to believe. Hailing from Belgium, the eighth child of two magicians, Ionia was destined for the stage. (Even her “real” name, Clementine De Vere, was a stage name, inherited from her father.) Ionia’s first husband was a world-renowned lion tamer, and her second husband was a literal Russian prince, earning her another nickname, Magician Princess.
She headlined an elaborate, large-scale illusion show throughout Europe, beginning in France in 1910. Though her performances only lasted five years, she’s an icon of the Golden Age of Magic.
She’s so iconic, in fact, that I have her image framed in my living room! If you’d like to learn more about Ionia, I recommend this book from magician and scholar Charles Green III: Unlock her secrets with a full-color history here.
Full disclosure: I know Suzanne and she’s a wonderful person! Suzanne is adored by audiences and respected by her peers, and she fooled Penn & Teller on their show in 2015. She also won Close-up Magician of the Year in 2010 at the prestigious Magic Castle in Hollywood.
Fay Presto is a British magician and trailblazer who won Close-Up Magician of the Year at the Magic Circle in London in 2012. Fay has wowed royalty, performing for Queen Elizabeth on multiple occasions, and has entertained pop music royalty like Elton John, Rod Stewart, Eric Clapton, Madonna, and more.
You can currently see her at the Roper Performing Arts Center as part of the Champions of Magic show.
Jen headlines at the Westgate Resort & Casino in Vegas. I wrote about her in my 7 Best Magic Shows in Las Vegas – Rated by a Professional Magician article.
Her charming show captivates audiences with its mixture of modern, tech-savvy enchantments and unforgettable illusions. The Westgate blog calls Jen one of the “10 Famous Female Magicians That Changed History.”
Carisa Hendrix is a highly rated, multiple award-winner (seriously—she’s racked up 15 awards world-wide, including Stage Magician of the Year at the Magic Castle).
Carisa’s performances put her skills as an actress and variety show expert to great use. Her circus stunts and fire-eating bring the daring, and her persona of Lucy Darling brings the laughs. Catch Carisa live on tour this spring and summer.
Having headlined at the Magic Castle and NYC’s Monday Night Magic, Jan Rose is an experienced pro who knows how to entertain and amaze audiences. She frequently performs as the magical emcee at the Chicago Magic Lounge, which is one of my Best Places To See LIVE Magic in the USA.
For the last 30 years, Jan has also performed an incredible double-act with her husband, veteran trade show magician Danny Orleans.
Misty Lee is a a “certified human lie detector” (no, really!) and a one-of-a-kind powerhouse. She’s also a séance medium, actor, and macabre magician known for her “saucy brand of sorcery. ” Her origin story has it that she so disliked being a magician’s assistant in a sparkly costume that she stole her boss’s job and never looked back.
If you missed her stage show Bold Magic, you can still check out her voiceover work in countless series and video games, and listen to her weekly online show at Unicorn Wednesdays.
This is NOT an exhaustive list…
As of 2023, more and more young girls are discovering the joy of performing magic, and we’re all the better for it. Penn Jillette (of Penn & Teller) believes “America’s Next Big Magic Star Will be a Woman” and just last month, Cody Clark in Louisville hosted an All-Female Magic Show.
MagicTricks.com has a thorough list of more women in magic, including the assistants who’ve shaped and influenced magic shows for over a century.
Love Podcasts? Check out Shezam!
Shezam! is dedicated to women in magic and has racked up 100+ episodes of informative interviews and important discussions. Hosted by magician Kayla Drescher, (who headlined the above-mentioned magic show in Kentucky), the podcast also shares helpful, actionable tips for any performer who wants to up their game.