Meet the Kim Kardashian of the 1890s
How an unexceptional vaudeville performer turned a lurid tabloid scandal into national fame and a lucrative personal brand.
Illustration by Ellen Surrey
By all accounts Katherine Devine, a New York City vaudeville performer who went by the name “Little Egypt,” was not a great dancer. Nor was she particularly pretty, once described as having “jet black hair … sharp black eyes and a face ugly but pleasing.” And in her early thirties she was older than most women in her profession. But she had a reputation for giving the kind of dance many of her contemporaries would not. The kind that required less clothing than the law allowed. In late 1896, when one late-night private performance became the center of a high society scandal, she seized it as a business opportunity.