Work Out Like a Victorian and You Won't Break a Sweat

Eleanor Rose

Member of the Month
Nov 26, 2016
central NC

Victorian women exercised using calisthenic props like canes. (Public Domain)
The mid-19th​ century saw the first major moves toward improving women’s health. Previously the concern that exercise was dangerous for females had been a major barrier to addressing this issue.

Catherine Beecher (the sister of Harriet Beecher Stowe) campaigned schools to add calisthenic programs for females, and strongly opposed women wearing corsets. She believed corsets deformed women’s internal organs.

Catherine wrote a calisthenic manual and marketed it to educators and families. She didn’t mince words, noting in her book’s preface that “[m]ost school-books on this subject are so encumbered with terms needed only by professional men, as to render them repulsive, and double the labor both of reading and study.” Her manual called for pliés, shoulder-whirling, and tossing weights to partners some 20 feet apart. Marching to music was common, and stretching was a regular feature.

In the Victorian era, calisthenics didn’t mean sit-ups. It meant a lot of careful limb movement, focusing less on building muscle or breaking a sweat and more on just making sure individuals were moving around.


Forum Host
Silver Patron
Jul 7, 2015
I could do with a Victorian workout. As a result of my lockdown inactivity I decided to give the ‘Bring Sally up’ challenge a try, so far I’ve made it to one minute and thirty four seconds. I’m hurting in places I didn’t know I had.


2nd Lieutenant
Forum Host
Apr 18, 2019
'Tis not proper for young ladies to...sweat....

Very unladylike....

Very true. Ladies don't sweat or perspire - they glisten. :wink:
I was raised with the maxim - Animals sweat, men perspire, ladies glow. My Southern belle mother was very proud of the fact that she kept a poison ivy rash going for weeks so she could miss the swimming unit in PE and thus not ruin her hair during the school day!

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