I-81800.1 | Bute House skating party, Montreal, QC, composite, 1873

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Composite photograph
Bute House skating party, Montreal, QC, composite, 1873
William Notman (1826-1891)
1873, 19th century
Silver salts on paper mounted on card - Albumen process
20 x 25 cm
Purchase from Associated Screen News Ltd.
© McCord Museum
Keywords:  Art (2774) , composite (312) , Photograph (77678)
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Keys to History

Physical activity and its benefits were advocated so vigorously during the Victorian era that the strictures that once forbade women from taking part in sports were coming undone. Sports such as skating, tennis, bicycling and curling gradually opened up to women, although the age-old concerns about their ill effects on them did not immediately disappear. Too ardent an involvement in sport, it was feared, led to a desire for independence and emancipation among women and also compromised their femininity. But did women accept all of the constraints placed on them? Perhaps the zeal with which some people tried to dictate female behaviour was a sign that women were taking advantage of their new freedoms to step outside of existing bounds.

  • What

    Women were allowed only moderate physical exertion in a few select sports because doctors believed that very vigorous exercise diminished their reproductive capacity.

  • Where

    In the schools of the wealthy, fresh air and physical activity were considered part of the training of responsible and well-rounded individuals.

  • When

    The sombre lighting of this photograph is a reminder that women who engaged in exercise had to remain calm and reserved.

  • Who

    In the 19th century, physical education was introduced first in schools attended by children of the elite, such as Bute House.