In honor of Valentine’s Day, I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to feature two couples who were ahead of their time in terms of the role of women in relationships and who also pushed the limits of marital trust to an extreme: shooting exhibition couples Annie Oakley and Frank Butler, and Ad and Elizabeth (Plinky) Toepperwein.
Let’s start with Annie Oakley and Frank Butler. On Thanksgiving 1875 in Cincinnati, Ohio, Frank Butler, a well-known marksman, never thought when he issued a challenge to local shooting champions that he would be defeated—especially by a petite 15 year-old girl. Butler claimed, “I was a beaten man the minute she appeared.” Butler, ten years her senior, began to court the young Annie Oakley not long thereafter. The couple was married by 1876.
Butler performed with a male partner in his exhibitions until 1882, when his partner fell ill. During that solo performance, Butler was having an off night and someone in the audience proclaimed, “Let the girl shoot.” Annie Oakley did and blew the audience away. From then on, Oakley and Butler performed together. As Oakley’s fame continued to rise, Butler graciously took a back seat, supporting her and serving as her manager of sorts.
Their marriage lasted for fifty years; Annie passed away in early November 1926, and Frank passed away eighteen days later.
Here is an Edison film of Oakley shooting with Frank at her side:
This is a poem Butler wrote about Oakley:
“Her presence would remind you,
Of an angel in the skies,
And you bet I love this little girl,
With the rain drops in her eyes.”
Similar to Butler, Ad Toepperwein’s climb to fame as a marksman was done prior to meeting Elizabeth Servaty. He met her in 1902 at a New Haven plant where she worked as a cartridge assembler. They were married a few weeks later! Elizabeth had never fired a gun before they met. He taught her to shoot and she would eventually become the world’s champion woman marksman. Ad and Elizabeth (or Plinky as she became known) would truly test marital trust during these shows. As a part of her act, she would shoot chalk, crayons, and matches from his hands and mouth!
People would often ask, who was the better shot? And the Toepperweins would answer that you would have to come and see for yourself. And people certainly did. The debate over who was a better shot was still unresolved at the time of Plinky’s death in 1945.