Women didn’t usually smoke in public, especially not a pipe. This was seen as a men’s pastime and deeply “unladylike”. It wouldn’t be until the 1920s, well after Sal Madge’s death, that women smoking in public was accepted. Obviously, today we know the health risks of smoking, however, Sal was most definitely ahead of her time taking up this masculine.
Although there is no evidence of her sexuality, Sal never married or had children and this was very unusual at the time. Being transgender and/or homosexual was sadly stigmatised and deeply misunderstood. It was not something openly discussed or written about, and gay people would often find themselves obligated to sacrifice their happiness to marry someone of the opposite sex. This is where Sal was different. She did not conform or accept the role of wife or mother. Looking closely at the census returns, it appears that Sal lived with various women over the years, and seems to settle down with a widow and her children. They could never have officially called each others “partner” or “wife” but it is wonderful that she never had to marry someone she didn’t love because of convention.
She could often be found in the local public houses, drinking beer and playing cards for money. She would also often compete in wrestling in The Cumberland Games. She was allegedly strong enough to throw her male competitors and often won. She would stand up for herself and those weaker than her and would defend herself physically if she had to.
She had a good heart too. She would often collect money for charitable causes, and even drove the Rocket Brigade waggon. The Rocket Brigade was a life-saving organisation which fired rockets carrying lines out to ships that were wrecked along the coast. Sal would shout to raise the alarm and together, they saved countless lives.
WIth character of strength, Sal was a formidable woman. She pushed every social boundary, whether by design or accident. She was a tobacco chewing, hard drinking, live-saving, wrestling trailblazer.