As the Victorians approached the 20th century, fads in home entertainment gave them new and enjoyable ways to interact with family and friends, and new opportunities for physical fitness. New medical research, rising income levels, and increased leisure time all contributed to the heightened quest for new leisure time activities.
Inside the home, new parlor games and board games were popular with both children and adults. Outside the house, more athletic games and pastimes became fashionable for men, women and children. The development of the lawn mower, facilitating the creation of neat, clipped lawns, brought on the popularity of lawn games like croquet, tennis and archery. We know that Dr. Physick enjoyed golfing and was a founder of Cape May’s Golf Club at the turn of the century.
It was during the late 19th and early 20th centuries that calisthenics and weight lifting became a part of many athletes’ regimens, and physical education classes began to be included in school curricula.
Indian clubs, with a shape similar to a bowling pin, came in varying sizes and weights for people of varying strengths. They were used like barbells to strengthen arm muscles, and ranged in weight from one to 20 pounds. Even ladies and invalids used lighter clubs for gentle exercise. Loose clothing was worn so one’s arms could move and chest expand. In addition to exercising the muscles, the goal of lifting the clubs was also to promote graceful form and controlled movement. “As a means of exercise, both pleasing and beneficial,” wrote S.D. Kehoe, author of The Indian Club Exercises (1866), “there is nothing for ladies more suitable and simple than the Indian Clubs.”
Visit the Emlen Physick Estate and check out Dr. Physick’s Indian Clubs!