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Discussion in 'Health Medicine and Hygiene' started by Cory Schaub, Aug 18, 2002.

  1. Cory Schaub

    Cory Schaub Guest

    I'm extreme when it comes to fitness and health--I'm really into it so I was just wondering how big of a deal fitness was to people in the gilded age. I think first class had gyms on the Titanic, I was just wondering if washboard abs and pecs were anything to people in those days. Yes, I know this post is a little different. :)
  2. Inger Sheil

    Inger Sheil Member

    Interesting question, Cory - as you would be aware, the Titanic was equipped with a gymnasium, squash court and swimming pool. Free weights (dumbells), the electric camel and horse etc were available. 'Physical culture' was a popular pursuit, and even women (at least of the more affluent classes!) were engaging in physical recreation...cycling, tennis, golf, archery, etc. Edith Wharton writes about bit about the enthusiasm for young women for sports in novels such as 'Age of Innocence'. Aboard the Titanic, passengers such as Colonel Gracie took an interest in a semi-structured physical regime (i.e. they tried to keep their excercise up while at sea!). I understand, however - and someone more versed in social history could perhaps correct me - that it was WWI that underlined for American society at least just how unfit many men were, and led to the implementation of more physical education classes in schools.

    I don't know about the abs and pecs...obviously no ab-rollers available, and I'm not too sure about the history of crunches! I imagine - and, again, I could be wrong here - that the physical ideal of the time reflected ancient or classical revival statuary...Classical Greek and Roman works, Renaissance nudes such as Michaelangelo's David, etc. These demonstrate a well-defined musculature without being heavily muscled...swimmers rather than body-builders.

    Good to see someone else who shares an enthusiasm for sport here - I do a little weight training, running, inline skating, circuit training etc, and try to horseride and scuba dive when I can!
  3. Kris Muhvic

    Kris Muhvic Member


    A thing I want jump in on here, is one has to remember that sport, working out, etc., to us today was a different concept in 1912. And yes, it depended on one's station in life. A workout for health's sake meant one had the time for that; and the desire. Let's say a farmer or factory worker, what with the long hours of exhausting labor, would just about rather drop dead than jog miles or play a game of touch-footbal on the lawn (if they even had a lawn!). Not just the poor or middle class: recall the claim that Mrs. Widener (after the library donation) gave a stipulation that in order to graduate from her son's alma mater Harvard a student must be able to swim a two-lap test! Harry couldn't swim, and a great deal of people couldn't simply because access to beaches or pools was limited. Women were of course expected to be more doll-like, so sport was lost on a great many of them.

    By all that I do not want to project that the entire generation were either worn-out zombies, or sedate blobs! There was always an emphasis of healthy living/excercising, usually promoted by doctors (many tried to banish the corset from the 18th cen. on; and smoking, and drinking...you get the idea). Many did perform activity either for health or just plain fun! I guess it really depended on one's stamina, interest, and ability...not unlike today!

    But at a time when people were multi-clothed from head to toe (a shirtless man on the streets could get arrested even to 1940!), working out for vanity sake was probably rare. A plump, robust-- meaning well-fed and the money to afford a good meal-- was more desirable. Children were allowed to be more active, but when the time came for them to be little Ladies and Gentlemen (or contributors to the family's income) a more practical approach to spent energy took over.

    One thing in defence of this time frame: people WALKED! Which from my understanding is probably one of the best excercises out there. Climbing stairs, etc.; the normal day-to-day exurtions benefit an active lifestyle...and they probably didn't even think of it!

    Whew! Where's the Gatorade?!

    Your rather slothy friend-
  4. Dave Gittins

    Dave Gittins Member

    At least some men fancied themselves as body builders. Often they were in the world of the circus and general entertainment. For a photo of a famous example from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, got to http://www.sandowmuseum.com/01elliott.jpg

    No drooling, ladies!

    This chap was an early Olympic medallist in one- handed weight lifting. I have another photo of him posing almost nude, perhaps trying to look like a Greek statue.

    Many working men found enough energy for sport, though time was short. All the main football codes were played, though social class played a part. For instance, Rugby Union was for gentlemen and Rugby League was for the lower classes.

    Particularly in Britain, it was the era of the gentleman amateur. It was considered good to participate in sport, but excessive training was considered 'bad form'. While researching Titanic I came on a newpaper discussion that considered whether Britain should participate in the Olympics. It seems some nations were taking things seriously and doing some training!
  5. Greetings! I thought I would add my two cents here re fitness in 1912. I have done some research into fitness history (especially the early 20th century) and have found that: the use of weights and weightlifting (aka "bodybuilding") is largely a German contribution, while the rowing machine (such as the one used by the Titanic's gym instructor) was made popular by college rowing teams on both side of the Atlantic. And if you had peeked into a gym locker on the Titanic you would no doubt find the famous "medicine ball" (I used to think they were a joke until I tried one out at New Orleans Athletic Club with a friend and was worn out in five minutes!). But the most common fitness exercise seems to have been swimming (recall old photos of bathouses at the famous resorts of 1900-1930's?) and, of course, taking a turn 'round the decks (not, mind you, jogging!). As some of you have already noted, all of this activity was to be done with maximum decorum.
  6. I understand that at this time, particularly in England, there was some concern regarding the physical fitness of the youth of the day. The most fit were probably those in third class, who worked for most of the day, performing physically demanding tasks in primary or secondary industry. Although things like swimming, rowing and cycling were available to the upper-classes, these were more for leisure than fitness - most ladies preferred to squeeze any fat into a nice shape with a corset. On the whole, I'd say that less emphasis was placed on fitness in 1912, the main reason for playing sports being leisure. People were much less healthy, and things like jogging, weight-lifting and aerobics would not become popular until over-eating, office jobs and T.V sent obesity levels soaring in the '70's and '80's.
  7. Well Cook and I could win the pie eating contest!

  8. Pat Cook

    Pat Cook Guest

    As long as we don't have to walk far to get to the table, that is!
  9. Bob Cruise

    Bob Cruise Guest

    You asked for it - you got it - THE NAKED TRUTH:

    I know that at Yale during this time - being the all-male, WASPY bastion that it was - no clothes were worn in the gym. I'm assuming Harvard was the same. Photos taken back then of various athletes half-dressed show bodies that are devoid of the rolls and bulk one sees on today's under-exercised people of today. At the same time, however, you don't notice anyone really "buff". I think the popular concept of what we today regard as gym-developed "hot bodies" was virtually non-existent. For one thing, people pretty much didn't go around showing off their bare assets.

    What's also important to remember is that, while the boys prior to "The Great War" may have been deemed "unfit", that didn't mean they were fat (just lacking in the necessary muscle). Back then, diet was much different. Fast and processed packaged foods (high in salt, carbohydrates and transfats) were not in wide use. Thus, the earlier-mentioned male bodies displayed pretty much revealed whatever musclularity either occurred naturally, or which had resulted from the sport they were playing (rowers tend to have the most development overall - both then and now - just check out the Thomas Eakins exhibit currently at the Met here in NYC).

    As for women, well, I have two words for you: "hourglass figure". Marie Dressler and Diamond Lil. Being "hip" and getting "busted" back then meant different things. Once again, I think diet played an important role. These women ate well - with little to no oppurtunity to ingest the aforementioned flab-producing fast and processed foods. Thus, their figures filled out gradually, by way of a pretty-much all-natural diet (like corn-fed cattle!).

    For you voyeurs who feel unsatisfied - or who feel the need to judge these things for yourself - I recommend the motion studies done by Eadweard Muybridge (ca. 1880). Because he wanted to study how the human figure operates (muscles flex, weight shifts), Muybridge rigged up a crude forerunner of the motion picture camera and photographed his nude models in all their all-together doing a variety of tasks.

    And if that still don't calm ye, well then there's always them danged, hi-falootin' "French postcards".
  10. Kris Muhvic

    Kris Muhvic Member

    Well, here I go again...

    Has anyone seen those old photos of Coney Island, or other beach scenes from this time? Apart from the bathing attire- the thing that I notice most is the number of people who are NOT in the water!

    Going "Classical" at the gym is not as ancient as we may believe...my Dad told me that when he was taking swimming class in High School, (early-mid 60's) the guys swam in the buff. Classes were segregated by gender of course; and no one thought it odd (maybe embarassing!). I believe that on Titanic, since the swimming bath was also gender-segregated, men probably dispenced with a bathing suit.

    I understand your take on laborors possibly being in the most fit state; but I feel for only so long. Physically demanding work takes it's toll, and many were were quite injured (at a young age) as a result. The reason I say this is that in period catologues (Sears, Montgomerey, etc.) pages were devoted to back braces, magnetic belts(?) and trusses: for hernias- or "...rupture is large or small....say whether rupture is on right or left side, or both." (Sears- 1902). Ouch!

    Judging from accounts, journals, literature, etc., it seems alot of people were in alot of pain! And unfortunatly back then, most had no idea what to do about their maladies.

  11. Mark Baber

    Mark Baber Moderator

    Well Cook and I could win the pie eating contest!

    Wanna bet?
  12. John Clifford

    John Clifford Member

    Here's another thought: most of the pictures taken, at the ship's gymnasium, showed most people in their full suits: shirt and tie, coat, women's full dress.
    These must have been "photo moments", both on the Titanic and the Queen Mary (part of the "Sunday On the Ship With Ron" series).
    That's one thing you'll never see, now. I, too, am serious about working out, and nobody at the local Ballys centers would consider working out unless they changed into their workout clothes.

    Of course, many of the entrees that we might indulge in, today, were probably not available in 1912. However, that does not mean that what we, today, consider unhealthy was not deemed acceptable in the early part of the 20th century.
    What was the average life span?

    BTW, Kris, when I was in 6th grade, 1975-1976, we had both Boy's and Girl's P.E. classes. That was the last year, as our teachers informed us that the next year the classes would be co-ed, per Title IX.

    Now, "for the final question", when will Mark, Geoff, and Pat head to the finals of the pie eating contest. happy.gif

    John Clifford
  13. Pat Cook

    Pat Cook Guest

    Wait - does that mean I have to get up?!
  14. Good stuff Kris! Let me slice a hefty wedge of treacle tart with cream for the boys and then we can chat about sneakers- or "trainers" as our British cousins will have it. I was amazed at all the Olympic records set considering the quality of the footwear as it appeared in Chariots of Fire, the film about Eric Liddle. Got me to thinking about sneakers. A rubber-heeled shoe was patented in 1899 by Irish-American, Humphrey O'Sullivan. The "plimsoll" shoe appeared about 1892 when the nine major American rubber companies formed a conglomerate called U.S. Rubber Co.-of which Goodyear was the frontrunner. Goodyear had been around making rubberized ground sheets during the Civil War- and in 1892 Charlie Goodyear came out with the vulcanization process whereby rubber could be melded onto canvas or cloth. So from 1892-1913 over 30 brands came out under various names, of rubber footwear. Looking for a catchy name, PEDS was considered, being the Latin for "foot" but we all know what PEDS are- the name was taken by a hoisery company! So, in 1916 the shoes became KEDS. The word "sneaker" was coined in 1917 by Henry McKinney, an advertising agent, because that was the stealthy sound made by the sneaky rubber soles. In 1979 Stride Rite Co. bought out KEDS- and ther rest is history. More pie anyone?
  15. A delightful series of photographs of bathing beauties and commentary on women's athleticism from 1892-1920, design and fabric of swimsuits and bathing footwear, and a detailed article can be found on the Victoriana.com site at
    Hope this is not too thrilling for you fellas! Lots of shapely ankles are exposed!
  16. Kris Muhvic

    Kris Muhvic Member

    A thing about rubber-soled shoes: in Gimbel's (Spring 1915) advertised were White Canvas Oxford's;
    "Rubber soles. A shoe suitable for tennis, yachting, country or beach wear. The toe is not extreme, allowing perfect freedom for the foot. Sizes, 6 to 10. Widths, D and E. $1.25 pair."

    Now, these shoes look like regular Oxfords, but with sole/heel in one piece. The laces: rather wide, "ribbon" style.

    Oh! BTW- "Arch Supports" were sold on page 155!

  17. Kris:

    Not to forget the "Coney Island" photographs of your aforemention were of the period when another ocean menace was stalking the Jersey Shores...and some lesser known rivers.

    A furthur inclusion fitted into the OLYMPIC CLASS Liner (SEE: New York Times review - "OLYMPIC is like a city".), was to have been an *ice* skating lane...perhaps a section of promenade
    cordoned off?

    After TITANIC's fateful encounter with *ice*, certainly those amended plans were abruptly ended.

    Michael A. Cundiff
  18. Kris Muhvic

    Kris Muhvic Member


    The other menace you speak of, would that be the garbage, sewage, etc. dumped in there? If so, yes...I understand why there would be little swimming sport happening. Heck- I'd risk SHARKS than...the other stuff!

  19. Bob Cruise

    Bob Cruise Guest

    Shelley: treacle tart with cream??? Sounds deliciously inviting. Does it come replete with a storytelling dormouse?

    Kris: I believe it's called "the black goo". (Didn't Steven King write a story about it? I think it made an appearance in the movie "Creepshow II". I know, for sure, that I once read something about it in an Alfred Hitchcock horror anthology.)
  20. Inger Sheil

    Inger Sheil Member

    Just don't take the new(ish) book about the 1916 New Jersey attacks, Close to Shore, too seriously...although the author makes a great show of seeing the events in the context of the era (lots of material on how swimming was viewed in America during the Gilded Age that has some bearing on this thread) etc, I found it a hopeless mismash of fact, fiction and speculation masquerading as non-fiction. It seemed to be attempting an approach along the lines of The Perfect Storm, but missed the mark utterly. I've seldom found a book so utterly irritating.

    The final kicker was his decision to go virtually without question with the theory that all the attacks were the work of a single, rogue Great White. He makes only passing, slighting reference to the recent work by Ellis and McCosker (among the most prominent and respected of Great White shark researchers), who posit the theory - which I'm inclined to favour - that at least some of the attacks were caused by another species, most probably a Bull Shark. But then, this wouldn't fit with the sensationalistic, simplistic narrative of the story...a prototype Jaws, one shark terrorising a community.