The Parents' Review

A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture

Edited by Charlotte Mason.

"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Physical Education of Girls.

by James Robert Kaye, M.B., D.P.H, F.C.S.,
Medical Officer of the West Riding of Yorkshire County Council.
Volume 15, 1904, pg. 410-420

It is to assert a truism to say that one of the first and most important needs of life is a good physique. There never was a time when physical robustness counted for more than at present. In the race of modern life, great stress is properly laid upon the necessity for technical education, and for the application of ever-increasing skill in the various departments of industry, but it is apt to be forgotten that the initial capital of a sound body is of paramount importance. If we widen our outlook to take in the question of international competition, we must still regard the physical fitness of both sexes of the people as the fundamental essential of success.

History tells us that bodily exercises, either in form of pastimes, or as preparation for war or the chase, were practiced by all nations of antiquity. Though physical strength in the early days of society was absolutely essential for security, we find that the Greeks were actuated by higher motives such as, (1) cultivation of the beautiful in form and proportion, (2) the establishment of a physical basis for mental development, and (3) the attainment of individual courage and strength. In this way they established a regular system of physical training which, with their mental culture, completed their ascendancy as a nation. The Romans, on the other hand, appear to have been more devoted to military exercises and gladiatorial contests. In both countries, with the increase of wealth, there came a love of luxury, and idleness, and decadence of physical culture. As a result, in the early Christian days we see a tendency towards a revulsion of feeling, the body being regarded as a source of evil to be mortified, and held in subjection by hunger, and even pain and filth. In the Middle Ages, feudalism necessitated physical prowess, which was kept to the fore by the reign of chivalry with its jousts and tournaments. The invention of gunpowder, and gradually increasing security of life, tended to the decline of muscular development, as was pointed out by Rousseau in his Emile (1762). Then followed the continental recognition of the necessity of organized training to maintain the physique of the people.

Throughout the 19th century, increasing attention was given to this subject, opinions being divided as to the sufficiency of national games and sports to maintain the stamina of the people. To-day it must be admitted that the conditions of urban life largely prevent our relying on such free exercises and make it imperative that artificial exercises should be resorted to in youth, if the bulk of the people are to have any regular opportunity of bringing into play their muscular system to anything like a sufficient extent.

In recent years, there has been commenced an extensive general movement on this subject of physical development, not confined to any age, class, or sex. Witness the innumerable proprietary foods, etc., guaranteed to impart brawn to the multitude, and the magazine advertisements of new forms of physical exercise. Indeed the widespread enterprise of "developers" is just now in some danger of over-reaching itself, and affords another reason why the ground-work of physical proficiency should be laid on broad lines during school age, and under proper supervision. It is far more important that the children of both sexes should be taught some of the essentials of a healthy life, and shown how to acquire them, than that a few dozen persons of more mature age should develop abnormal biceps, for a short season, by means of patent apparatus, and an enthusiasm born of advertising pushfulness.

In practically all the Continental countries, physical education now forms an obligatory part of the ordinary school curriculum, and in some countries this has been the case for 50 years. What is the position in England to-day? Speaking broadly, our present educational system is still largely one-sided. In the past, we have been apt to entirely forget the body and overwork the brain, but happily the trend of recent educational thought has been in the direction of encouraging the proper development of the physical body, as an aid to mental advancement. In the majority of schools, some form of systematic drilling or exercising is in vogue; in some few gymnasia is provided and swimming is taught as far as facilities permit. Outdoor games and sport are also practised by the stronger ones, and a generous spirit of rivalry engendered which makes for good in many ways.

But are we doing all that is necessary? Is it not the case that the active sports only provide for the few, and that routine school exercises are frequently undertaken with little or no system or continuity. They are apt to be looked upon merely as necessary breaches or recreative interludes in the more serious business of scholastic training, and not as of tantamount importance in the equipment of our future citizens for their work in life.

Surely the proper function of national education should be to encourage in every possible way the development of a good physique, simultaneously with training of the mental faculties, so as to secure the proper balance between the two which is so essential for the nation's welfare! Individuals may take the responsibility of feeding the mind and neglecting the body, or vice versa, but when the State takes education in hand, both branches should receive their due share of attention. The interdependence of mind and body must be fully recognized, and a harmonious relationship established between the two. They develop, mature, and decay together, and are ever reacting on each other. As Shakespeare says, "We are not ourselves when nature being oppressed commands the mind to suffer with the body."

The development of the body cannot even be said to be secondary to that of the mind, as our present system of education would seem to indicate. To strengthen the former is to invigorate the latter, while to neglect the body is ultimately to enfeeble the mind. Man is destined for activity, for which brain and muscle have been provided, and it is not too much to say that the highest physical development is consistent with the best mental training.

Perhaps it may be advisable at this point to obtain some understanding as to the meaning and relationship of such terms as "physical culture," "physical training," and "physical education" which have been so much before the public as late. As popularly used, the terms seem to be interchangeable, and have reference to the systematic exercise of muscular activity, with the definite object of attaining proficiency in certain standards of precision, skill, endurance, or strength. In many instances, the terms are employed merely as fashionable names for gymnastics, or for the attainment of prowess in one or two particular feats.

The term, however, we are now considering, and as it affects Education Authorities, is one of much broader significance. "Physical training," as we conceive it, is not entirely an advocacy in any system of gymnastics, calisthenics, or drill, but an intelligent and gradual building up and buttressing of the physical abilities of some broad system, where principles are associated with practice. It involves an explanation of purposes and reasons for each action, and it aims not solely at present efficiency, but lifelong benefits. It should commence in childhood, continue through the school period with careful supervision, and may profitably be maintained in years of maturity. Kingsley, after surveying the Greek sculpture in the British museum, wrote, "Such men and women can be, for such they have been, and such we may be."

While thus defining these terms, other factors which make for a sound and healthy body must be taken into consideration. Sydenham, the father of English medicine, looked upon exercise, fresh air, and water as three great physicians. Oddly enough, the first five letters of the alphabet include the principal factors influencing the physical condition of the individual, whether in the home, the school, the workshop, or the office, e.g., A for air, B for breathing, C for cleanliness, D for diet, and E for exercise.

Arguments in favor of physical training seem somehow to be at once connected in our minds with the training of the male sex, although they apply with equal force to the necessity of physical training for girls. Girls have not the opportunities of that healthful rivalry of sides at games; they have not the same play, outdoor exercises and sports to counteract the deficiencies of school life. As a result there are many girls, and mothers too, who for lack of early physical development, live always on a lower plane of life than otherwise would have been the case. They are not sick, but simply less alive than they ought to be, and in many, bulkiness and want of proportion is the result owing to limited exercises.

Let us reflect, too, that the young girls of to-day become the "mothers of men." If we fail at the present time to mould their physical growth on the best principles, we are neglecting a great opportunity of securing manifold benefits. Not only does the physical training of girls yield immediately valuable results, as in the case of boys, but if properly accomplished, it should operate in an important secondary manner fraught with immeasurable benefit to the race. For example, the girl who is taught the principles of proper breathing, and has herself acquired an improved chest capacity, is not only at once better equipped for her own share in life, but may be relied on in future years to correct any faulty tendencies in her offspring in that particular point.

Having incidentally mentioned the question of breathing, I may stop at this point to explain that, in my opinion, correct breathing is one of the first and most important branches of physical training for girls. Before attempting to acquire strength of limb or skill in active movements, it is absolutely essential to bring the internal organs to a healthy and efficient condition, and for this purpose nothing can replace breathing exercises.

Strengthening and developing of the chest means greater lung capacity, a stronger heart action, and a better digestive system. Secure this for our girls, and they will be in a fair way to settle for themselves the remaining questions of physical exercises. Having early learned how to breathe habitually to the full capacity of their lower lungs, they will not in later years take kindly to the corsetiere's ideas of gracefulness when carried beyond a reasonable point. In after life the great need of a woman is not so much muscle, as good respiration and good circulation. It is this circulatory and respiratory power which so frequently turns the balance in disease and accident. Every inch of chest capacity may be said to be an addition to the length of one's days, because it means less work for the heart, less wear and tear of it and the blood vessels.

Apart from actual chest measurement, the habitual manner of breathing is a point of vast importance, and one of which, if impressed upon girls at an early age, would obviate many of the throat troubles so common these days. Their breathing exercises should be associated with lessons on the physiology of circulation and respiration and explained by diagrams. Take for Illustration the following:--

     30 cubic inches tidal air respired in ordinary breathing.
     100 " " reserved for hard work.
     120 " " residual air always in lungs.
     Subtotal: 250
     100 cubic inches complemental, i.e.,permissible by increased capacity owing to proper exercises.
     Total: 350

If you habitually employ a larger volume or increase the volume of tidal air, it means greater purification of the blood, forming better tissue-food, and therefore capable of better work in every direction.

The first exercise then for girls would therefore be breathing exercises performed without apparatus, out of doors when possible, and divided into movements for bringing the different muscles into play. Such exercises would do no harm to the youngest or weakest and would be beneficial to the strongest. If more importance were attached to correct breathing at all times, we should not have so much trouble with consumption of the lungs and the consequent provision of sanatoria. The difficulty is not in finding proper air to breathe, but in making the best of it.

The period of active growth and development (from five or six years to puberty) may be regarded as the best time for physical training, properly graded. There is no reason also why even in infancy instead of wrapping up the legs of the babe in long superfluous robes there should not be given room for free movement. We must bear in mind always that "the child is father of the man" and "as the twig is bent the tree inclines."

As the powers of locomotion increase, a greater freedom should be given on the "run-wild" idea to develop the mechanism of accustomed movements like walking and running. With the advent of lessons, the exercises should be regulated according to the bodily powers. This can be done at home, but by-and-by the child is sent to school and thenceforward all interest in progressive exercises is usually left to the school. The only question is how or where to have the girl educated, and in settling this question, physical culture is generally a secondary consideration or not considered at all. Thus it happens that the growth of the body is influence only by the chances and caprices of natural activity. A playground is provided, but the children play pretty much as they please, and the weaker ones (who are the most in need of proper exercise) stand a chance of being injured or overdone in the games.

It is now generally admitted by those who have given thought to the question, that voluntary games are not sufficient to ensure for girls a good all-round development. A girl may excel in a given game, and yet be far from passable as regards general physique, and moreover, such a girl will exhibit a tendency to indulge chiefly in the particular game which suits her taste, and to neglect other forms of exercise which a careful supervision would suggest.

The witnesses who gave evidence before the Royal Commision in Physical Training were practically unanimous in thinking that the games require to be supplemented by a code of systemic exercises, and the Commission found that such training was quite as important for girls as for boys. Mr. J. G. Legge gave his opinion that "the ideal system for girls would be pure Swedish drill, coupled with dancing and skipping. A lot of skipping is done, but it is not developed as it ought to be. It ought to be systematized. Applied gymnastics are certainly not as valuable in the case of girls as it is in boys."

Mr. Sandow is quite opposed to gymnastic exercises pure and simple, but would have children classified according to physique after medical examination, and the carefully put through graded movements without apparatus but with distinct developmental intentions, therein differing from the Swedish system which is devoted to securing alacrity and looseness of joints.

The Scottish Commission reported that Sandow's breathing exercises carefully undertaken produced very good chest development in children, but they found that the concentrated mental attention required by the children renders as a whole such exercises somewhat unsuitable.

For growing girls it is highly important that they should be taught how to stand, sit and walk, for by correct transmission and support of body weight, much may be done to avoid pelvic deformity, knock knees, flat foot, etc. Untrained girls are too apt to form faulty habits when sitting and standing, causing their bodies to develop unevenly. They lounge about or loll against anything that may be handy, or assume cramped and unnatural positions of the body. It is just in this direction that systematic physical training has a corrective effect and a curative influence. Unfortunately mental training has introduced an unnatural environment at school, and therefore physical training is necessary to correct the faults associated with schoolroom work, such as stoop shoulders, contracted chest, and spinal distortions and other skeletal deformities. These cannot be corrected by spontaneous play alone, but by the antidote of the school desk, namely, carefully graded physical exercise. As Dryden puts it, "The wise for cure on exercise depend."

Some course like the following might be relied on under proper supervision to produce correct form and also muscular strength:--

     1. Preliminary directions on nasal breathing, with simple exercises on deflating and inflating the lungs and increasing the mobility of the chest walls.
     2. Arm flexions and extensions.
     3. Balance movement.
     4. Shoulder exercises and lunges.
     5. Movements for the trunk, particularly the abdomen.
     6. Lateral bendings.
     7. Marching and walking exercises.
     8. Deep breathing exercises.

In formulating a scheme on these or similar lines, valuable help may be obtained from the Model Course of Physical Training issued by the Board of Education, price 3d. Of course there are other forms of exercise such as running, leaping, hopping, hooping, skipping, and swimming, all excellent forms which might be left to voluntary play and sport. So, too, for adults there are tennis, golf and such like.

Twenty minutes each day, preferably around 11a.m., has been found to give better results than having longer lessons at greater intervals.

It should be remembered that the object is not to secure abnormal muscular development, but merely to encourage each part to grow and perform its function in the proper way.

I am not an advocate for the general use of apparatus for girls, as all that is necessary can be accomplished without special mechanism. Still, in the case of individual girls whose constitutions and tastes incline that way, I see no objection to gymnastic development, provided that it is only commenced after a thorough course of free movements and that it is not overdone or carried to the verge of masculineness.

While making certain of the requisite degree of physical efficiency, it is well to keep in general view the fact that home duties must necessarily remain the great calling of the majority of the sex. But such forms of exercise are not always agreeable, as is cynically expressed in the following rhyme:--

     "She could swing a six-pound dumb-bell,
     She could fence and she could box;
     She could row upon the river
     She could clamber 'mong the rocks;
     She could do some heavy bowling
     And play tennis all day long;
     But she couldn't help her mother,
     'Cause she wasn't very strong."

We are apt to forget that many of our daily tasks really afford excellent exercise, and I cannot but think that much physical good might be derived if the mind were more accustomed to look at the possibilities of benefit to be derived from conducting the ordinary occupations in something of the spirit which is given to physical training. To this end, of course, the occupation, like the training, should be as varied as possible, performed under hygienic conditions and not carried to exhaustion.

The mind has a great deal to do with physical well-being, as has already been pointed out, and we do not want a mind which can only see a source of healthfulness in stereotyped exercises set out on a chart, valuable as such exercises may be. Think of the neglected possibilities for exercise which are afforded by a ten minutes walk. A person with a trained muscular system can thoroughly exercise and invigorate the whole of his body in such a short walk which another person would take with little or no benefit. Exercise without mind, as without variation, may be the opposite of beneficial.

In practice, all exercise should be undertaken with moderation and discretion, having due regard to the use and abuse of muscular activity. This reminds me of the story of the man who, tired and run down, went to consult a doctor in a large town. The doctor put on his eyeglasses, looked at the man's tongue, felt his pulse, sounded his chest, and said, "It's the same old story, my friend. Man cannot live without fresh air; no use trying. I could make myself as a corpse, as you have done by degrees, if I sat down here and didn't stir. You must have fresh air; you must take long walks, and brace up by staying out of doors. Now my advice to you is walk, walk, walk." "But doctor --" interrupted the man. "That's right; argue the question. Of course, you know all about it. Now will you take my advice? Take long walks every day--several times a day--and get your blood into circulation." "But my business--" said the patient. "Of course, your business prevents it; everybody says that. Just change your business, so that you will have to walk more. By the way, what is your business?" "I'm a postman," meekly replied the patient.

Physical exercise is not a panacea; it will not work miracles; but we can claim that, if properly applied in youth, it will strengthen all the organs and fortify the frame for the battle of life. In girls it is specially valuable to discount the mischief which arises later on by reason of the tyranny of fashion and the errors of dress. When all our school girls have their minds and bodies rationally trained they will not find it so easy to adopt all the peculiar extremes of style which varying fashions dictate. First, a mincing gait and a stiff back; then a wobbling swing of the hips; nor will they submit to deformities due to high heels, tight corsets, heavy clothing, and insufficient exercise.

A few words on clothing may not be out of place, seeing it forms such an important factor in this question. Dress should meet the just demands of modesty and satisfy the cultured taste in adornment. But primarily it should protect against meteorological vicissitudes, such as cold, heat, humidity, sun, rain, fog. Do these paper-like boots, open worked stockings, perforated and "tuberculosis" collars, "pneumonia" blouses, or the head-gear of today afford the necessary protection? Dress should permit of a certain degree of physical exercise on all occasions. It should neither pinch nor distort, otherwise injury may arise from activity resulting in flushed cheeks and cold extremities. How can respiratory and laryngeal exercises be performed when the lower ribs are bound in splints of steel or whalebone? "Stays, Stillness, and Silence," may be given as the three chief causes of impaired respiratory functions in women.

In conclusion, let me recapitulate a few of the arguments in favor of physical exercise for girls, systematically undertaken during the school period under efficient supervision.

1. To ensure the complete development of the respiratory organs and the proper habitual working of all the muscles concerned in respiration.

2. As a direct consequence to strengthen the action of the heart and all the internal organs, securing better blood, better circulation, better digestion, and all which these mean.

3. To permit a reasonably muscular development of the body and limbs and therefore more perfect form and proportion, better figure and improved carriage.

4. To establish a sound physical basis for mental development; the achievement of discipline, character, self-control, and decision.

In short, mens sana in corpore sano, remembering that

     "The woman's cause is man's,
     They rise or sink together,
     Dwarfed or god-like, bond or free,
     If she be small, slight natured, miserable,
     How shall man grow?"

[Since this paper was written, there has been presented to Parliament the Report of the Committee on Physical Exercises, which deals fully with the principles to be followed in framing a Model Course. Those specially interested in the physical education of girls should refer to this report, which may be had of the Government printers, etc., price 6d.]

Typed by Mrs. Erica Wright, August, 2023; Proofread by LNL, August, 2023