Working Out the Early Victorian Way

I came across this early Victorian wonderfulness today and had to share. The following can be found in Exercises for Ladies: Calculated to Preserve and Improve Beauty, and to Prevent and Correct Personal Defects, Inseparable from Constrained Or Careless Habits: Founded on Physiological Principles, by Donald Walker and published in London in 1836. 



The rod for this purpose should be light, smooth, inflexible, and need not be more than three or four feet in length.

The rod is first grasped near the extremities by the two hands, the thumbs being inward.— (See PLATE XII, fig. 1.) Without changing the position of the hands on the rod, it is then brought to a vertical position: the right hand being uppermost holds it above the head, the left is against the lower part of the body.By an opposite movement, the right is lowered and the left raised. This change is executed repeatedly and quickly.

From the first position of the rod, it is raised over the head; and, in doing so, the closer the hands are, the better will be the effect upon the shoulder.—(See PLATE XII, fig. 2.)
It is afterwards carried behind the back, holding so firmly that no change takes place in the position of the hands.—(See PLATE XII, fig. 3.)

This movement is then reversed, to bring it back over the head to the first position.

The same exercises are performed by grasping the stick with the hands in an opposite position; that is to say, with the thumbs in front or the palms of the hands forwards.—(See PLATE XIII, fig. 1.) It is raised parallel with the shoulders, extending it first on the left and then on the right arm.

It is next raised above the head, the hands being still in their new position.—(See PLATEXIII, fig. 2.) It is afterwards lowered behind the back.— (See PLATE XIII, fig. 3.)
The exercise is concluded by bringing it to its original position in front.
These exercises cannot be performed in all their different movements with promptitude and regularity without many trials and repetitions. Their tendency is to confirm the good position and the flexibility of the shoulders, produced by the extension motions.


THIS instrument is one of the oldest used in gymnastics. It may be seen in the Latin work of Mercurialis de Arte Gymnastica; and though its form was not precisely the same as at present, the result produced was similar. It has been long in use in England, where it enters into the school exercise of most seminaries for the instruction of ladies.
For children from six to ten years of age, dumbbells should not weigh more than from three to four pounds each; and for children from ten to fifteen years of age, they may weigh from four to six pounds each.To use dumb-bells with all the advantage they admit of, the young person should stand in the fundamental position already described.

To use dumb-bells with all the advantage they admit of, the young person should stand in the fundamental position already described.

To obtain the first position, the hands and the dumb-bells are, by a slight rotatory movement of the arm outward and backward, brought behind the lower part of the body, so as to make the two extremities of the dumb-bells next to the little fingers touch each other.

The fingers in this case touch the muscles of the hips, and the back of the hand is outward.—(See PLATE XIV, Fig. 1.)

In the first exercise from this position, a regular motion is commenced, which consists in giving to the depending and extended arms, at the same time, a circular and rotatory movement, forwards and inwards, to the front of the body, so that the dumb-bells perform each a semicircle, (See PLATE XIV, Fig. 2,) making a complete circle between them, but with this difference in position, that when they are behind, they touch at the exterior extremities, or those on the side of the little finger, and when they are in front of the thighs, they touch at the other extremities.


In the second exercise, —from the same position, the heads are raised together towards the front and middle of the chest, the approximated, so that the ball on the thumb-side of the one dumb-bell may touch that of the other.— (See PLATE XIV, fig. 3.) With the arms extended, they are then allowed to drop with sufficient force to swing them round the body to the first position. This is repeated several times.


In the third exercise,– from the same position in the arms are raised above the head, and the bumb-bells are made to touch at their extremities, being kept in a horizontal position. — (See PLATE XV, fig. 1) The hands are then allowed to fall gently into the first position.


In the fourth exercise, the arms are stretched out straight from the shoulders.—(See PLATE XV, fig. 2;) and the hands are moved horizontally backwards (See PLATE XV, fig. ,) and forwards, the dumb-bells being in a vertical position.

This employment of the dumb-bells should not at first persisted in longer than a minutes or two at a times, but the duration of each succeeding exercise may be gradually increased.

N.B. Until the introduction of the Indian sceptres, of Indian clubs, this exercise was valuable, notwithstanding the inconvenient jerk which communicates to the shoulders. It should not be superseded by that exercise, and beneficial.



1st. A sceptre is held by the handle, pendant on each side, (See PLATE XVI, fig. 1); —that in the right hand is carried over the head and left shoulder until it hangs perpendicularly on the right side of the spine,—(See PLATE XVI, fig. 2);—that in the left hand is carried over the former, in exactly the opposite direction, (see the same figure), until it hangs on the opposite side;—holding both sceptres still pendant, the hands are raised somewhat higher than the head, (See PLATE XVI, fig. 3);—with the sceptres in the same position, both arms are extended outward and backward, (See PLATE XVII, fig. 3);—they are, lastly, dropped into the first position.—All this is done slowly.

2d. Commencing from the same position, the ends of both sceptres are swung upward until they are held, vertically and side by side, at arms length, in front of the body, the hands being as high as the shoulders, (see PLATE XVII, fig. 1);—they are next carried in the same position, at arms length, and on the same level, as far backward as possible, (see PLATE XVII, fig. 2);—each is then dropped backward until it hangs vertically downward, (see PLATE XVII, fig. 3);—and this exercise ends as the first. Previous, however, to dropping the sceptres backwards, it greatly improves this exercise, by a turn of the wrist upward and backward, to carry the sceptres into a horizontal position behind the shoulders, so that if long enough, their ends would touch, (see PLATE XVIII, fig 1) —next, by a turn of the wrist outward and downward, to carry them horizontally outward, (see PLATE XVIII, fig. 2)—then by a turn of the wrist upward and forward, to carry them into a horizontal position before the breast, (see PLATE XVIII, fig. 3); —again, to carry them horizontally outward; —and, finally, to drop them backwards; and thence to the first position. —All this is done slowly.

3d. The sceptres are to be swung by the sides, first separately, and then together, exactly as the hands were in the last extension motion.


1st. The sceptres are held upright in front of the body, the elbows being near the hanches, and the forearms horizontal, (see PLATE XIX, fig. 1):—the sceptre in the right hand is then carried over the head and left shoulder, (see PLATE XIX, fig. 2,) dropping as low as possible behind, (see PLATE XIX, fig. 3,) and returning to its first position;—the same is done with the left hand;—then with the right;—and so on with each alternately.—All this is performed with a swinging motion, so that the end of each sceptre describes a circle which commences before the head, descends obliquely backward, and ascends again.

2d. After carrying the sceptre in the right hand from the same position around the head and left shoulder, as already described, it is stretched horizontally outward by the extended arm, (see PLATE XX, fig. 1); — and thence returned to the first position;—the same is then done with the left hand;—and so on with each alternately.—The swing is here broken by the lateral extension.

3d. The sceptres, held chiefly between the thumb and first and second fingers, rest on the fronts of the arms extended downward and slightly forward, and reach somewhat obliquely from the thumb and now inner side of the hands, of which the backs are turned forward, to the outsides of the shoulders, (see PLATE XX, Jig. 2);—that held in the right hand is then thrown over the shoulder and hangs downward behind it, while the whole of that side of the body is turned forward, the back and neck bent, so that the chin is raised and the chest thrown upward, (see PLATE XX, Jig. 3), and, as the body is again turned to the front, that sceptre is drawn over the shoulder and brought to its first position;—at the moment in which the body reaches the front, however, the same begins to be done with.the left hand;—and so on with each alternately.

4th, This differs from the second only in this respect, that the arms no longer act distinctly, but together; their motions being blended by the left commencing as soon as the right has made its circle round the head, and forming its own circle while the right is extending, and so on with regard to each.—This explanation and a reference to the description and plates illustrating the first and second exercise, make this quite plain.

5th. This differs from the third chiefly in this, that the arms no longer act distinctly, but together; both sceptres, however, being kept down until the lateral turn is complete (See PLATE XXI, fig. 1), both being then thrown over the shoulders at once, with the back and neck bent, (See PLATE XXI, fig. 2), and both returning gradually (See PLATE XXI, fig. 3) over the shoulders as the body passes to the opposite side.

6th. This is an exercise in which the lady crosses the apartment from side to side. The first exercise is here performed once with each arm, commencing with the arm of the side towards which the freer space permits her most readily to go. (See description and plates illustrating the first Exercise.) Supposing this to be to the right of her first position,—on finishing the second circle of the first exercise, namely that with the left arm, and bringing it in front, both sceptres, being thrown to the right side, (See PLATE XXII, Jig. 1,) are swung with extended arms to the left, sweeping in a circle downward in front of the feet, (See PLATE XXII, Jig. 2,) of which the left being at that moment lifted to perform a wheel backward upon the right toe, the face is turned opposite to its first direction, ground is gained by the left foot placing itself toward what was originally the right side, and the ends of the sceptres, without the slightest pause, continue their sweep upward to their first position, (See PLATE XXII, Jig. 3.) The same is only repeated; the lady remembering always to commence with the arm of the side to which she means to advance.




Tidbits on Mid-Victorian Era Menstrual Hygiene

Last night I needed some information on Mid-Victorian era terms for menstrual hygiene for my book Frail, so I did a few quick searches in Google Books, filtering between the years 1800 through 1880. Easy peasy,no? Well, it turns out that Regency and Victorian women didn’t have periods. This whole menstruation thing didn’t come into vogue until around 1880 and then every woman wanted to have a period and stores had to stock “napkins” and “belts”. I’m kidding, of course. I just couldn’t find much information in the years I needed.

So after hours of research on Google Books, I’m sharing with you my copious findings.


From Obstetrics: the Science and the Art, by Charles Delucena Meigs, published 1852:

“For the most part, as soon as the menses are perceived to begin to flow, the woman applies a T-bandage, consisting of a napkin, called the guard, folded like a cravat, which is pressed against the genitalia, while the ends are secured to a string or riband tied around the body above the hips; but I have seen some, not a few women, who assured me they had never used any other precaution than that of putting on a thicker petticoat for fear of the exposure of their condition. Such persons must be very slightly hemorrhagic, since the want of a guard-napkin would otherwise be sure to expose their condition by stains of blood upon their feet or stockings. Many female patients have assured me they never use less than a dozen napkins upon each catamenial occasion— and fifteen, and even twenty such changes are not very rare in the history of healthy menstruations. An ounce to a napkin is, perhaps, not an excessive computation.”

From A Manual of Bandaging: Adapted for Self-instruction, by Charles Henri Leonard, published 1876:


Use of Tampons from The Diseases of Woman, their causes and cure familiarly explained: with practical hints for their prevention, and for the preservation of female health, published in 1847

In those severe cases, when the gush of blood is almost instantaneous, and so great as to endanger life in a very short time, we may employ, temporarily, mechanical means to prevent it. The best of which, and the most readily prepared, is called the tampon or plug. It may be made of linen rag, cotton, or sponge, in the form of a ball, and introduced into the vagina like a pessary, It should be large enough to completely fill up the passage, but must not be introduced more than about two inches, for fear of irritating and inflaming the mouth of the womb, which is then very sensitive.

A very good way to make the plug is, to cut out round pieces of soft linen cloth, then pass a stout thread through the middle of each and press them close together, till the mass is au inch thick. The string is convenient for pulling it out again, and should always be attached to every one. A small bag filled with tan, or ashes, or sawdust soaked in alum water, is also very excellent. These plugs should not be withdrawn in a hurry, unless severe symptoms supervene, and when they are removed, care must be taken not to disturb or irritate the parts. If the danger be imminent, and there be not time, or means to prepare a tampon, the lips and vulva should be firmly pressed together with the hand, till other means can be procured.”

Below are  images of tampons from Minor Surgical Gynecology: a Manual of Uterine Diagnosis and the Lesser Technicalities of Gynecological Practice: For the Use of the Advanced Student and General Practitioner, by Paul Fortunatus Mundém, published 1880. These tampons are for medical use.



*Here’s an additional resource on Menstruation from Georgian London blog