My best friend is very into fitness and wellness, and she has become much healthier and happier because of the lifestyle changes she’s made. She has done an phenomenal job becoming fit and is even planning to run a half-marathon! I’m proud of what she has achieved. It would be fair to say I’m considerably less disciplined. I have, however, been to a gym and I know what they look like. So when I happened upon these pictures of the gyms that existed in the early 1900s, I found them to be really fascinating.

To begin with, many of the modern gymnasiums were built for and used by wealthy people, and  were often built on college campuses, or in the case of Skinner Gymnasium, on seminary grounds, and they blended with their surroundings. Not exactly Gold’s Gym, is it?

Skinner gymnasium, Northfield Seminary 1900 (from Library of Congress)


The interior of a gymnasium, circa 1900 (from the Library of Congress)


As you’ll see, most gymnasiums in these photographs were either for men or for women, or perhaps they had different times when men and women could be there. It seems kind of silly to segregate gyms, but you could see how some people might prefer it.

It is shocking though, when you see how women dressed at these gyms. No yoga pants or shorts for them! It’s amazing they were able to work out in these clothes, but as you’ll see, they did!

A 1904 photo of gymnasium open only to women (from Library of Congress)


1893 Girl High School Gymnastics in Charlestown High School, Boston, 1893 (from


The other thing that really stands out is the discipline people display in these pictures. I like their perfect posture!

1893 – Girl high school gymnastics, (from


Non-commissioned officers at the military gymnasium, Aldershot, England 1908 (from the Library of Congress)


The Titanic, of course, had a gym. It was for first-class passengers only, I believe, but it seems to have been co-ed!

Passengers using ‘cycle racing machines’ on board the Titanic in 1912


Overall, the focus on fitness was new at the turn of the century, and over time it has changed a lot. Going by these pictures, even the underlying concept seems to have changed. I would guess the purpose of the gym back then was more about discipline and your role as part of the group, whereas now, it is more focused on individual wellness.

But I see there are still some synchronized swimmers out there, so I’m curious what you think!

synchronized swimmers in California