Barrison Sisters

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The Barrison Sisters, c. 1890s, reveal kittens beneath their skirts.
Lona Barrison in Berlin, 1903

The Barrison Sisters were a risqué vaudeville act which performed in the United States and Europe from about 1891 to 1900; they were advertised as The Wickedest Girls In the World.

History[edit]

Lona (Abelone Maria), Sophia, Inger, Olga and Gertrude Barrison were actual sisters (many "sister" vaudeville acts were not) of Danish-German descent. Along with their mother, the five sisters immigrated to America from Denmark in 1886, joining their father, who had taken the journey earlier. Lona Barrison, the oldest of the sisters had had fleeting theatre experience in Copenhagen as a young girl, and it was she who initially gravitated towards the theatre scene after the family settled in New York. Later on, she was joined by her siblings. Originally called Bareisen, they anglicized their surname, thus becoming the Barrison Sisters. The five blond and curly-haired siblings were said to sing in high squeaky voices and dance with middling ability. They achieved notoriety, however, by ingenious use of double entendres on stage.

In their most famous act, the sisters would dance, raising their skirts slightly above their knees, and ask the audience, "Would you like to see my pussy?" When they had coaxed the audience into an enthusiastic response, they would raise up their skirts, revealing that each sister was wearing underwear of their own manufacture that had a live kitten secured over the crotch.

After their success in Europe in the mid-1890s, scores of troupes purporting to be "sisters" followed in their footsteps, among them the British Machinson Sisters. The Barrison Sisters broke up around the turn of the 20th century, but both Gertrude and Lona went on to have successful solo careers on the stage. Gertrude, the youngest and perhaps most talented of them all, became a groundbreaking modern dancer in Vienna. She was the last to die —in 1946 in Copenhagen.

The Barrison Sisters came to renewed public attention in the first decade of the 21st-century when they were featured on the label of Five Wives Vodka,[1] produced by Ogden's Own Distillery in Utah,[2] when the vodka was initially rejected for sale in the adjacent control state of Idaho,[3] an action for which the Idaho State Liquor Division won a 2013 Muzzles Award from the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of Free Expression.[4]

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