Exercise Caution

[G]irls, in all your gettings get health, it is the foundation of success in every undertaking.

—Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1880

The invention of modern girls in the early 1900s was built on fit, healthy bodies. While competitive sports were often reserved for boys, girls were encouraged to wear looser clothes and engage in exercise that prioritized fitting in.

Jump rope songs often reinforced what girls could be, depending on the lyrics.

 

Janey and Johnny

Sitting in a tree,

K-I-S-S-I-N-G

First comes love,

Then comes marriage

Then comes Janey

With a baby carriage.

The Girls Own Book, 1833

The Girls Own Book, 1833

Advice experts promoted jumping rope for girls because they could do it in place while wearing a dress.

Gym Suit, around 1850

Gift of Faith Bradford

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See Girlhood in 3D! Explore a model of the gym suit.

 

As girls exercised, they also worked on dress reform, trading corsets and long skirts for bloomers and looser styles that allowed for greater freedom of movement.

Gymnasium Suits, New Idea Woman's Magazine, 1896–1912

Gymnasium Suits, New Idea Woman's Magazine, 1896–1912

Exercise Clubs, 1910

Gift of Cecile M. Zinsmeister Savard

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Jump Rope, 1950s

Jump Rope, 1950s

Hine Junior High School Girls Basketball Team, 1925

Hine Junior High School Girls Basketball Team, 1925

Courtesy of Library of Congress, LC-DIG-npcc-13062