Abstract

Between 1830--1870, a number of influential texts promoting gymnastics deemed appropriate for U.S. women claimed that those exercise regimes would cultivate feminine rectitude along postural, moral, and procedural lines. In doing so, while promising at once to straighten women's spines, to increase their chest size as well as their lung capacities, and to foster beauty and grace, those discourses promoted a female figure that stood in direct opposition to contemporary representations of incapable housekeepers and useless invalids. Many gymnastics regimens thus functioned as disciplinary mechanisms that sought to forge docile bodies, to infuse those bodies with (disciplinary) temporality, to encourage habits of precision, system, and order, and to cultivate postures and sensibilities of feminine rectitude that would reconcile (true) women with conceptions of domesticity that required them to conceal the strains of their duties. Those gymnastics systems, then, encouraged U.S. women and girls to refigure their physiques and their identities as social subjects: to materially constitute themselves in clearly identifiable ways as healthy, pious, and thus authentically true women who had inherited crucial traits of Republican Motherhood.

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-1897
Print ISSN
0022-4529
Pages
pp. 737-763
Launched on MUSE
2005-03-22
Open Access
No
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