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Exercise Tips for Women (1902-1921): Topics in Chronicling America

What were some of the strange and unfounded ways women were told to "get fit" during the early 20th century? This guide provides access to materials related to "Exercise Tips for Women" in the Chronicling America digital collection of historic newspapers.

Introduction

"How to have a figure like mine." April 13, 1921. South Bend News-Time (South Bend, IN), Image 14. Chronicling America: Historic American Newspapers.

Nowadays, exercise and fitness tips for women can be found in any magazine or website. But during the Victorian era, the “pallid, sickly look” was prized as the height of beauty for women. In the early 20th century, things changed and women were expected to be strong, ruddy, and physically fit. Exercise was recommended as a way for women to appear “fit” and shed pounds. However, due to scientific misconceptions of the time, many of these exercise tips may now seem useless or even ridiculous. Read more about it!

The information in this guide focuses on primary source materials found in the digitized historic newspapers from the digital collection Chronicling America.

The timeline below highlights important dates related to this topic and a section of this guide provides some suggested search strategies for further research in the collection.

Timeline

August 31, 1902The latest exercise fad comes in the form of barrel rolling—using a barrel for fitness purposes.
June 24, 1906Women are encouraged to canoe, walk, golf, swim, and play tennis with both hands over vacation.
November 25, 1906Women with cold feet are encouraged to make running motions while standing still, tiptoe up and down, and lie on the floor and move legs as though running a wheel.
July 28, 1907Exercise is recommended for girls because nowadays girls should be “strong and ruddy,” whereas before they were expected to be “frail” and “delicate.”
December 31, 1911Women are encouraged to keep fit by lifting imaginary pianos and removing corks from bottles.
October 25, 1912Billy Burke tells women to get slim by doing exercises that “stretch and wring the liver.”
July 13, 1914Women are encouraged to punch bags to improve their appearance and get a “round, full neck” and a “plump, smooth chest.”
September 1, 1915The “new perfect woman” stands 5 feet 4 inches and weighs 134 pounds, and women are encouraged to achieve this ideal through exercise.
September 28, 1915An American 1915 beauty displays a stretching exercise that is “better than medicine.”
April 13, 1921A “perfect girl” encourages other women to get her figure through exercise and housework.