Date of Award


Document Type

Restricted Thesis

Terms of Use

© 2011 Rebecca Woo. All rights reserved. Access to this work is restricted to users within the Swarthmore College network and may only be used for non-commercial, educational, and research purposes. Sharing with users outside of the Swarthmore College network is expressly prohibited. For all other uses, including reproduction and distribution, please contact the copyright holder.

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


History Department

First Advisor

Bruce Dorsey


This thesis explores the changing relationship between women and physical culture—exercise, dieting, body image, etc.—in America from 1900-1940. This is based on the depictions of, and instructions to, women through magazines and other publications, and on the writings of female athletes. It follows the path of gendered body images and aesthetics, and their politicization, through the increase of women in the workforce and higher education. Through female physical culture and the development of the “New Woman,” Woo examines the physical, spiritual, social and sexual ideals and fears of womanhood in the media of this period, and how increased awareness of female physicality brought female sexuality forward as an issue. As the connection between physical culture and sexuality grew, women increasingly took control of their bodies and used physical culture to gain acceptance for female heterosexuality.