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The Women’s League of Health And Beauty: Nazis, Pilates And The Birth Of The Keep-Fit Movement

By on 8 March 2014 | comments 0

THE Women’s League of Health And Beauty were there to help:

Women’s History Network:

Mary Bagot-Stack founded the Women’s League of Health and Beauty in 1930 when her daughter Prunella was just fifteen years old, but when Mary died at a tragically young age in 1935, Prunella was called upon to continue the work of the League.  Not only did she continue the work but she watched the League spread from Britain to Canada, Australia and Hong Kong, with a worldwide membership of 170,000 women by 1938.  Around this time, fitness, movement, keep-fit and physical recreation for women was spreading throughout Britain and becoming something of a national phenomenon.

 

Lady Prunella Douglas-Hamilton, formerly Prunella Stack, on Jan. 12, 1939, leader of the Women’s League of Health and Beauty.

Lady Prunella Douglas-Hamilton, formerly Prunella Stack, on Jan. 12, 1939, leader of the Women’’s League of Health and Beauty.

They has snazzy uniforms:

 

uniform

 

 

And friends in low places.

 

Gertrud Scholtz- Klink, leader of the German women’s organisations, and considered by Adolf Hitler to be the perfect German woman, paid a visit to the Women’s League of Health and Beauty headquarters in London. The Nazi women’s leader, Gertrud Scholtz-Klink, left, with Lady Douglas-Hamilton, formerly Prunella Stack, head of the Women’s League of Health and Beauty, during her visit to the headquarters of the league in London, on March 8, 1939

Gertrud Scholtz- Klink, leader of the German women’s organisations, and considered by Adolf Hitler to be the perfect German woman, paid a visit to the Women’s League of Health and Beauty headquarters in London. The Nazi women’s leader, Gertrud Scholtz-Klink, left, with Lady Douglas-Hamilton, formerly Prunella Stack, head of the Women’s League of Health and Beauty, during her visit to the headquarters of the league in London, on March 8, 1939

 

The Guardian:

In 1937, a Scots MP invited her to open a school swimming pool with an inaugural dive. She obliged, and met the MP’s brother, Lord David Douglas- Hamilton, youngest son of the 13th Duke of Hamilton. He soon proposed the setting-up of a Highlands fitness school, and marriage. She agreed to both, and off they went, mountaineering together in the Alps post-honeymoon.

Prunella led a League delegation to an international congress of physical fitness in Hamburg in 1938; she was unnerved by the Nazi Strength Through Joy devotees, but courteously hosted a German return visit the next year. Soon, the alert women of the League were volunteering for war service: Prunella retreated to Dorset for the duration, to take care of her two baby sons.

 

 

ady Douglas Hamilton (formerly Miss Prunella Stack) is leading a team of teachers of her famous league of health and beauty on a mission to Sweden, where they will demonstrate British fitness training methods at the Lingiad in Stockholm. Lady Douglas Hamilton (Prunella Stack) at right coaching some of her health and beauty girls in their exercises on April 21, 1939, in London, United Kingdom, during a rehearsal for their Swedish visit.

Lady Douglas Hamilton (formerly Miss Prunella Stack) is leading a team of teachers of her famous league of health and beauty on a mission to Sweden, where they will demonstrate British fitness training methods at the Lingiad in Stockholm. Lady Douglas Hamilton (Prunella Stack) at right coaching some of her health and beauty girls in their exercises on April 21, 1939, in London, United Kingdom, during a rehearsal for their Swedish visit.

 

In 2005, Prunella spoke with the BBC:

2005_47_wed_04

 

This photo is from 1936. It shows the League performing at Olympia.

 

olympia 1936

 

 

Oxford Index:

A mass fitness movement established in the 1930s by Mary Bagot Stack. The league’s motto, ‘Movement is life’, expressed its evangelical message, though its first stated aim of cultivating ‘racial health’ indicated its imperialist, elite premises and racist overtones. The league’s membership rose to 60,000, ‘based on its judicious appeal to an older, class-bound, service-motivated, maternal femininity, while having a modern, mass-market, commercial style’ (Jill Julius Matthews, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, 2004).

 

PA-1417125

 

The Indy:

Born out of poverty, the League gave a generation of women whose fathers, brothers and husbands had been killed during the First World War the opportunity to exercise together in classes of varying levels of difficulty. In modern terms, Stack could be seen as “the foremother” of today’s fitness obsession, as the League embraced pilates, aerobics, dance exercise, yoga and much more.

 

The Women's League of Health and Beauty, under its Director, Prunella Stack (Lady David Douglas-Hamilton), centre, opened its Autumn season with a mass reunion class at the New Hall of the Royal Horticultural Society, London. Some of the nine hundred members of the League from all over the country were there to participate in the exercises. Left to right; Joy Flanaghan, Doris Dewar, Janet Worth, Joan Hopgood, Prunella Stack, Diana Farmer, Hazel Wade, Patricia Browne and Joyce Burrows. Date: 26/10/1947

The Women’s League of Health and Beauty, under its Director, Prunella Stack (Lady David Douglas-Hamilton), centre, opened its Autumn season with a mass reunion class at the New Hall of the Royal Horticultural Society, London. Some of the nine hundred members of the League from all over the country were there to participate in the exercises. Left to right; Joy Flanaghan, Doris Dewar, Janet Worth, Joan Hopgood, Prunella Stack, Diana Farmer, Hazel Wade, Patricia Browne and Joyce Burrows.
Date: 26/10/1947