Friday, November 18, 2005

Past Times, Sports and Fitness

In the early period indoor games ranged from whist, cribbage, bridge and patience. Men could enjoy more outdoor sports than women especially real tennis, shooting, rowing, billiards, cricket, fishing, and deer stalking. Later women joined some of these pastimes.

Early Victorian gentlewomen were more limited and played croquet and skated. Everyone walked and promenaded. They were graceful walkers with good deportment. They hunted, rode horses and mastered archery. A few would mountaineer despite the cumbersome nature of wearing crinolines or bustles.

Between 1870 and 1900 sporting activities for both sexes grew rapidly. Women soon played golf and cricket, sailed, swam and bathed publicly. Once the bicycle arrived in 1881 cycle clubs for enthusiasts formed and it was a wonderful way for young couples to socialise with limited supervision. The special clothing that women needed for these sports evolved from reform dress first initiated by Amelia Bloomer around 1850.

Croquet & Lawn Tennis
Croquet was introduced in England in 1856 and was probably brought to America in the early 1860’s. It was considered particularly suitable for women since it required considerable skills but not too much strength or technique. (Women were allegedly deficient in both). Although croquet was never popular men’s game, it had both social and economic advantages: men and women could play together, and it required little equipment and no special clothing. Tennis anyone?

Roller Skating
Roller-skating was introduced in 1863, and it was quickly made fashionable by the elite of New York City.
The 1870’s rinks with hard maple had built floors in nearly every town and city. By paying an admission fee of twenty-five or fifty cents, men, women, and children could participate in races, fancy skating, or dancing on skates. Special skating dresses, which allowed more freedom of movement, became popular by the 1870’s. Indicative of the extent of the craze was this wry comment by the editors of Harper’s weekly, in the form of a potential gravestone inscription for a departed skater:
Our Jane has climbed the golden stair
And passed the jasper gates;
Henceforth she will have wings to wear,
Instead of roller skates.

The popularity of roller skating waned by the 1890’s, but like ice skating it helped lead to more freedom in dress and behavior for women.
Water Activities
Rowing and canoeing were popular pastimes, and, like tennis, golf, and riding, necessitated changes in women’s costume. Rowers left their corsets at home. Stout boots, a skirt that barely touched the ground, a flannel shirt, and a sailor hat were recommended. Women were also urged to wear heavy gloves to protect their hands when they rowed. Competitive rowing was popular among men, but for women rowing was supposed to be strictly for exercise and pleasure.

Many women went to beaches, but few of them actually swam. Ready-made bathing suits were constructed in two pieces-drawers and a tunic-and usually were made of no clinging fabrics like flannel, jersey, soft serge, or even heavy mohair. To complete the bathing costume, women wore full-length stockings, bathing shoes, and even a ruffled cap. Weighted down with heavy, voluminous fabrics, all but the strongest swimmer would have been exhausted after a few strokes. Until the twentieth century, most women did not experience real swimming.
Victorian bathing beauties from the early and late Victorian periods wore more clothes to the beach than we do to go to school.
Horseback Riding
Some sports, such as horseback riding , were available only to the wealthy, or to those willing to make financial sacrifices for social aspirations. Riding necessitated renting or owning and maintaining a horse as well as an elaborate costume; a riding habit, gloves, boots, and equestrienne tights were social necessities for a lady.
Women interested in the sport also had to overcome physicians’ warnings that riding might complicate or stimulate pelvic troubles. But for the wealthy and the aspiring middle class (perhaps hoping to have their daughters marry "up"), horseback riding provided both exercise and an expression of social status.

The advent of the bicycle in the 1880’s stimulated great controversy about women’s proper role in society. Questions of "how they should ride", when they should ride, who they should ride with" were considered by commentators, and"wheeling’s" many critics were certain that bicycle riding threatened women’s health, morals, and reputation. Critics opposed wearing union suits (to absorb perspiration) or bloomers, and worried about the privacy and potential liberty bicycling granted to young men and women. Physicians Thomas Lothrop and William Poter posited that the bicycle inevitably promoted immodesty in women , and could potentially harm their reproductive systems. Other critics argued that women bicyclists favored shorter skirts, thus "inviting" insults and advances. Moreover, by tilting the bicycle seat, they could "beget of foster the habit of masturbation". For advocates like Maria E. Ward, however, "The bicycle (was) an educational factor . . . creating the desire for progress, the preference for what is better, the striving for the best, broadening the intelligence and intensifying love of home and country.

Before such noble attributes could be encouraged by "the wheel", change in dress or the design of bicycles was necessary. Skirts made riding the Ordinary (a bicycle with a large front wheel) virtually impossible. Tricycles, however, were designed to accommodate full skirts and allowed women to ride without adopting the bloomer outfit, which many women opposed for its politically radical associations. Like nearly every other aspect of life in the nineteenth century, tricycle riding had a specific set of rules and regulations. The rule against women riding alone in fact generated a new profession: the professional lady cyclist as chaperone. Tricycles were commonly used for touring, and the tandem tricycle was popular with couples.
The first bicycle was two equal-size wheels and a dropped frame with no crossbar was the Victor, first manufactured in 1887. With the addition of pneumatic tires (invented in 1889) and enclosed gear, women were able to ride comfortable without their skirts becoming entangled. The final dramatic improvement in bicycle technology was the coaster brake, invented in 1898. These features enabled women to bicycle safely without having to wear bloomers.
By 1900 bicycle manufacturers, sales agencies, and private individuals had opened women’s velocipede or riding schools in many northeastern cities. The Metropolitan Academy in New York City set aside a special area of its hall for women wishing to learn the mysteries of wheeling, and installed the first athletics-linked shower baths for women in America. The Michaux Club, a new York City organization founded in 1895, provided women with riding lessons in the morning, music to accompany indoor riding after lunch, and afternoon tea in the clubroom. The club also provided "ten pin rides" in which women demonstrated their skill by riding slalom-fashion through lines of bowling pins set on the floor. Indoor riding for women was more acceptable to critics than outdoor bicycling because it was controlled; there was neither the possibility of young couples riding off in private, nor any chance of immodest exposure of woman’s limbs. Men were excluded from the women’s bicycling sessions.
By the late 1880’2 two - or three-day tours under the aegis of regional or national cycling groups were common middle class activities. In both Europe and America these organizations charged small membership fees and issued road books which provided information about routes, road conditions, hotels, repair shops, and "consuls" - club members in towns and cities, appointed to answer the questions of touring cycles. Far fewer women than men belonged to these groups, but they evidently participated with equal enthusiasm. In 1888 the Philadelphia Tricyclists Club had 118 members, eighteen of whom were women. That year the club’s "Captain’s Cup", annually awarded to the member who covered the most miles during the year, was won by a woman "for her mileage record of 3,304 ¼ miles.
The Penny Farthing was a popular Victorian bicycle.

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