Female coaches and female fitness in nineteenth century Britain and Ireland

Conor Heffernan, Joseph Taylor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In 1821 P.H. Clias travelled to England to take up a new job with the Royal Military and Maritime School teaching gymnastics to prospective soldiers. On arrival Clias also established a private gymnastics school for the public. Soon after Clias began training civilian instructors his branch of physical activity in the hope of establishing his system within the country. One such individual was Marian Mason, a woman who can arguably claim to be England’s first female fitness instructor. Mason held classes, wrote a book on physical culture, and taught other women Clias’ system. Ten years later Monsieur Beaujeu and his wife, Madame Beaujeu, established a training college in Dublin, Ireland. Under Monsieur’s supervision, his wife taught classes to women and assisted in the writing of a revolutionary fitness book for women. When Monsieur passed away in 1834, Madame travelled to the United States where she continued to teach. Mason and Beaujeu are two stories of many for the first generation of female fitness instructors in nineteenth century Britain and Ireland. The purpose of this paper is twofold. First it tracks the emergence of female fitness coaches in the first half of the nineteenth century with a specific focus on pathways into the profession. Second it explores the training systems these women promoted. In a field dominated by men, the emergence of female instructors was rare but, as the paper will make clear, it was possible. The paper thus sheds new light on histories of women’s coaching, sport and fitness.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSports Coaching Review
Early online date7 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished online - 7 Sept 2023


  • Women's history
  • physical fitness
  • Great Britain
  • Ireland callisthenics


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