19th Century and Onwards, Books, Historians, TV and Movies

Exercise for women in the 1910s

Between my recent Instagram post about Gibson girls and revisiting a favourite article detailing how the ideal woman’s body has changed over the past hundred years, I’ve had the 1910s on the brain a little bit.

I’d remembered an episode of Edwardian Farm where Ruth and her daughter were demonstrating the calisthenic exercises that became popular for women during the late 19th century, so I thought I’d investigate other exercises that were suggested for women at the beginning of the 20th.

Margaret Mixter offers many exercises that are “beautifying,” such as exercises for the arms with very light weights. These claimed to make the arms “graceful and supple,” without overexercising the muscles. An interesting feat for a terrifying-sounding exercise – holding clubs at arms-length and swinging them in all directions around your head!

The book also claims that bending over and touching your toes, as well as stretching side to side, will slim the waist.

Before bed, the book recommends a couple of calisthenic exercises done in front of an open window, including:

[D]oubling the fists, placing them at the shoulders and then thrusting them out at arm’s length swiftly. Both arms may be used together and then alternately.

Mixter also writes that “housework is excellent exercise for a girl who wishes to develop a round, pretty figure, for sweeping, dusting, or even washing, if the latter is not too heavy to strain the muscles, helps to strengthen and beautify the body.” She recommends that standing up straight and sort of swaying as you sweep will “round” the arms and develop the hips. She also claims that a constant, firm grasp of a broom will round the arms.

Personal hygiene and physical training for women suggests that women can’t withstand “prolonged physical and mental strain,” and offers “all forms of dancing, calisthenics and light gymnastics, archery, lawn-tennis, swimming, field hockey, lacrosse, sprint running, bicycling, rowing, canoeing, golf, skating, fencing, basket-ball, and all gymnastic plays and games” as evidently less strenuous exercise that women can excel in.

Girl and Woman: A Book for Mothers and Daughters, tends to agree, claiming, “no girl can risk the strain of a match game without danger of suffering from it sooner or later, not only because of the extreme bodily effort, but because of the nervous tension arising from the excitement of competition together with the emotional disturbance inevitably attending success or defeat.”

There isn’t perfect consensus about the approved types of exercise for women (that won’t make their heads explode, apparently). Girl and woman speaks of bicycle riding as as a relic from the past, though it did have advantages as exercise. It “obliges such incessant attention to itself that enjoyment of scenery or agreeable conversation with a companion are impossible, and it rarely fails to develop a species of obsession which destroys all pleasure in any other variety of amusement.”

As an aside, one charming thing about the abovementioned book was how happy its author seemed about certain advances in exercise for girls and women. For example, “in our grandmothers’ time [ice-skating] was considered almost as indecorous as the flying trapeze.”

It’s neat to be able to chart certain items of progress that we tend to take for granted today – ice skating, and being able to play a competitive sport and lose without fear of it shattering our dainty nerves!


  • Mixter, Margaret. Health and beauty hints. New York: Cupples & Leon Company, 1910.
  • Dr Galbraith, Anna Mary. Personal hygiene and physical training for women. Philadelphia: W.B. Saunders Company, 1916.
  • Latimer, Caroline Wormeley. Girl and Woman: A Book for Mothers and Daughters. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1910.
Books, Places, TV and Movies

The history of fictional worlds

I was about 13 years old the first time I read the Lord of the Rings books. I was captivated by the story, but more than that, I was captivated by the fictional world it occupied. And when I discovered the Silmarillion – packed with the world’s history and lore – I was hopelessly hooked.

I’ve written before about the finality of history, how it can be comforting to study something you cannot influence at all. But I also find the history and lore of fictional worlds just as comforting – maybe even more so, as our own world is well out of it, not affected. Almost like a video game, it’s an immersive experience that’s almost consequence-free.

Lately, I’ve been enjoying YouTube videos created by people analyzing book and video game histories, answering questions and searching the source material for answers. Here are some examples.

VaatiVidya sharing some beautifully-presented Bloodborne video game lore:
Rawrist exploring Game of Thrones history (*Spoilers*):
Game of Thrones again; this time Preston Jacobs using history to examine book theories. (*Spoilers*):

I’m a writer, but I’m not a world-building sort of writer. Maybe I’m fascinated by fictional histories for this reason. Maybe I’m drawn to the sort of concentration and focus that’s necessary to be a world-builder. I know I don’t feel like I have those skills in abundance most of the time.

Also, there’s this idea that the manmade is somehow inferior to the organic, too perfect, too considered. But one thing I love about the history and lore of fictional worlds is that it’s often imperfect. In these videos, sometimes there are unanswered questions or loose ends, theories that may only lead to other theories. I like that too. It’s somehow satisfying to know that a history created by people potentially with charts and lists and beta readers at their disposal can be as messy and open to chance as real history.

19th Century and Onwards, Places, TV and Movies

2,435 stag heads on the wall . . .

Recently I’ve been watching a British program called Walking Through History. It’s presented by one of the hosts of Time Team, but it’s quite a different kind of show. Here, the focus is hiking and walking through historical places around the UK.

It’s a very aspirational thing to watch in the middle of winter!

The most recent episode I watched focused on Victoria and Albert’s love of the Scottish Highlands. It was all lovely and interesting, but what really struck me was this little fact about Mar Lodge (taken from Rampant Scotland):

The Duke of Fife was a lavish entertainer and during the season His Grace held functions for guests, tenants and employees in the ballroom decorated with 2,500 stags heads. When Queen Victoria attended balls at Mar Lodge, the Duke arranged for an avenue of kilted Highlanders holding aloft blazing torches to light the way from the house to the ballroom.

(The show said it was 2,435, to be exact.)

The exterior looks harmless, but once you get inside . . .


Photo credit: LHOON

There’s a bit of a closer look at Mar Lodge Estate’s Facebook page.

The current Mar Lodge, being the third incarnation, was built between 1895 and 1898. The Duchess of Fife at the time was Princess Louise, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter.

There are various events and attractions at the estate. Personally, if I ever happen to end up in Scotland, I think I’ll have to make a special trip just to see this ballroom for myself!

18th Century and Earlier, Historians, TV and Movies

Watching: Secrets of the Castle

I’ve been enjoying Secrets of the Castle on TVO, from most of the same team who did Victorian Farm and Wartime Farm:

Secrets of the Castle: Domestic historian, Ruth Goodman, and archaeologists Peter Ginn and Tom Pinfold take on, perhaps, their most ambitious foray in to the past, as they head to France to build a genuine medieval castle. The build has been underway since 1997 and now is the perfect time for our three intrepid history adventurers to join this magnificent construction where they can re-create authentic medieval castle living from within its rising walls.

Firing a trebuchet? Making a crossbow? Cutting meat on a stump? Just the sort of TV brilliance I’ve come to expect from these people! (Well, two of them anyway; Tom wasn’t on other shows of theirs I’ve seen. I have no idea if he’d cut meat on a stump.)