Fit Citizens: A History of Black Women’s Exercise from Post-Reconstruction to Postwar America


ACLS Fellowship Program


American Culture and Women's and Gender Studies


"Fit Citizens" chronicles African American women’s participation in the modern exercise movement and situates them within a tradition of black physical and civic fitness. The book examines the social and political significance of black women’s exercise behaviors as the physical culture, racial uplift, and early civil rights movements placed overlapping demands on African American women’s bodies. Fit Citizens argues that black women used exercise to demonstrate their “fitness” for citizenship from the 1890s to the 1950s—a time when physically fit bodies garnered new political meaning. The book captures how African American women made exercise instrumental to their ideas of health, ideal corporality, and civic inclusion. It prompts scholars to think more literally, and in effect more critically, about how African Americans actually “exercised citizenship.”