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Active BodiesA History of Women’s Physical Education in Twentieth-Century America$
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Martha H. Verbrugge

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780195168792

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195168792.001.0001

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Active Womanhood and the Science of Sex Differences, 1890s–1940s

Active Womanhood and the Science of Sex Differences, 1890s–1940s

(p.47) 2 Active Womanhood and the Science of Sex Differences, 1890s–1940s
Active Bodies

Martha H. Verbrugge

Oxford University Press

Chapter 2 examines how female physical educators (primarily white teachers) conceptualized active womanhood: How did female bodies resemble and/or differ from male anatomy, physiology, and physical aptitude? Were women’s and men’s psychosocial traits similar and/or divergent? What did sex differences imply for female exercise, recreation, and sports? Answering these questions proved difficult as American notions of fitness and femininity changed, scientific debates over human differences intensified, and professional physical educators sought social legitimacy between the 1890s and 1940s. White gym teachers fashioned complicated views that sustained the value of their profession, affirmed bourgeois whiteness and heterosexual femininity, justified both sex segregation and gender equity in the gym, and left room for new ideas about active womanhood.

Keywords:   white physical educators, physical sex differences, psychosocial sex differences, nature/nurture debate, sex segregation, gender equity, femininity, heterosexuality

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