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This is an entry in our “Random Reference” series, which features interesting discoveries made and reference questions answered by our Archives & Library Reference Services staff. Click the Random Reference tag at the bottom of the post to view more in the series.

I was recently helping a user locate early 20th-century health manuals and found myself wondering if general fitness exercises had changed much over the last hundred years or so. Paging through various volumes I saw many exercises that would not seem out of place at one’s local gym, but also came across some that were unfamiliar.

Exercises for Health by Lenna L. Meanes, M.D., published in 1924, includes detailed descriptions and charming stick figure illustrations. Having a bad day? The Drooping Daisy may lift your spirits. It involves slouching forward until one “lies in crumpled heap on floor” and then slowly rising up again, ending with arms overhead while swaying from side to side.

“Drooping Daisy”

Exercises for Health by Lenna L. Meanes (1924)

The Cat Walk also caught my eye. It sounds like it might be fun to do with a feline friend or perhaps after having a few drinks…

“Cat Walk”

Exercises for Health by Lenna L. Meanes (1924)

Another interesting find was Physical Culture: Primary Book by B.F. Johnson (1900). This text focuses on exercises for youth and has a somewhat militaristic tone, but includes some wonderful photographs. Developing poise was considered very important at the turn of the century. To accomplish this, these children are walking with bean bags on their heads.

“A Model Schoolroom – Exercise in Poise”

Physical Culture: Primary Book by B. F. Johnson (1900)

“The Milkman’s Slap”

Physical Culture: Primary Book by B.F. Johnson (1900)

The exercise called the Milkman’s Slap is described as not only being fun for children, but also useful for milkmen to restore feeling to their hands during early morning deliveries.

Finally, for afternoon sluggishness, a few rounds of Part Your Hair in the Middle is sure to invigorate!

“Part Your Hair in the Middle”

Physical Culture: Primary Book by B.F. Johnson (1900)

Lisa Wehrmann

Lisa Wehrmann

Electronic Reference Services Coordinator

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