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Grand Rapids in 1856

Scene of early Grand Rapids viewed from the...

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Going to the Gym

Going to the Gym

GRHC - November 18th, 2009

Grand Rapids Historical Commission and the Community Media Center present "Glance at the Past". Today, the ladies get in motion.



You may be surprised to learn that women’s interest in physical fitness in not a current phenomenon. As early as 1857 “Home Exercises for Women” were featured in Harper’s Weekly. A Swedish gymnastics program that began in Grand Rapids in 1893 was the forerunner of the Women’s Gymnasium.

It opened in 1895 on the third floor of the McMullen Block on S. Division, and any woman could join. In the 1890s it was estimated that there were at least 8000 women in the city who were self supporting, and even those in the most modest occupations could afford the gymnasium’s membership fee of $2.00 per year. Members also included professional women such a Drs. Emma Wanty and Bessie Earle, society women, business women, school girls, and mothers with their daughters.

For her membership a woman had use of the gym, the newest Swedish equipment, and could even practice bicycle riding. Morning, afternoon and evening classes were offered. There were baths, with a choice of a tub or four different types of showers. Non-members could have baths for 10 cents.  A kitchen was available where working women could warm their lunches, and a reading room where they could browse current periodicals.

In 1900 the board of the Women’s gymnasium voted to become part of the Young Women’s Christian Association and thus the YWCA made its debut in Grand Rapids. The ownership of the equipment was transferred to the Y, and the two-hundred and fifty members of the Women’s Gymnasium became new members of the YWCA.


Full Details

TitleGoing to the Gym
KeywordsGlance at the Past, YWCA, women, gym, radio, WYCE, Grand Rapids, Historical Commission
Pubdate StringNovember 18th, 2009

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