The Battle Against Corsets

But with the removal of the corset muscular anarchy ensued. I felt as if my back would break in two. In addition to this, I became painfully aware of the weight of my skirts over the abdomen, while every one of these seven bands cut its way into my weak and unprotected back….


Great care should be taken when one has decided to make a change in dress, that too much is not exacted of enervated muscles, weakened through long lack of use. Put on the combination garment and the tights at once, but begin to remove the corsets by degrees. Take the steels from the front and button them; lace them at the back with elastic cord. Have an improved dress made that will allow you a quarter or a half inch extra breathing space, with the seams sufficiently deep to admit of further letting out, if necessary. If skirts are still worn, make button holes in the band and button them to the corsets or corset cover, allowing a quarter of an inch slack in the band, between each button hole. Gradually take out all the bones in the corset and at once cut it off at the top and bottom, removing by degrees all superfluous linings. While this is going on take breathing exercises three times a day (according to directions found in the chapter under the head of breathing exercises). Get a set of chest weights (No. 10 Narragansett Manufacturing Co.) and practice night and morning all the different chest weight exercises to be found in the little book that will be furnished with the weights. Get Guthman’s Aesthetic Gymnastics, Checkley, Kafler on Breathing, Lutzen on Respiration, or any other standard book on exercises. Begin to find out what muscles there are in the body, and to use them. Three-quarters of an hour a day, for regular exercise, will strengthen and develop unused muscles in a most marvelous manner; and headache, nervousness, and dyspepsia “Will fold up their tents like the Arabs, and silently steal away.”

If there is a good gymnasium near, a gymnasium where some attention is paid to measurements and a reliable physician in charge to prescribe the course to be pursued, enter it. If not, the books indicated will permit a person with a reasonable amount of common sense to accomplish the desired result. Never unduly fatigue a muscle. Stop exercising before you are really weary. Remember that it is short periods of practice, with frequent intervals of rest, that do the work. Do not expect to get strong in a day, and do not be alarmed if unused muscles ache a little. Richard Proctor said it took his muscles two months to recover their normal condition, after foolishly wearing a corset for three months. He was growing stout, and thought it would be an excellent plan to adopt the feminine method of disposing of superfluous flesh, but after a short trial discovered that there could be greater ills in life than that of extra avoirdupois, and so left off his corsets, but was two months, as above stated, in leaving off the pains they brought him. If it took him two months to recover from a three months wearing of corsets, a woman who has worn corsets five, ten, fifteen, twenty years can’t expect to recover from the results of violated law in a week or a month; but if she has perseverance and exercises a little common sense and patience she will find nature very ready to help and quick to accommodate herself to new and better conditions.

Some attention, indeed a great deal of attention, must be given to physical exercise by any one meditating a change of dress. Much of the successful wearing of an improved gown lies in the symmetrical body that the dress covers. Shoulders can be broadened, hollow chests filled out, shrunken arms and legs developed, backs straightened, until the misused body approximates to its human form divine.


Parker died at 51, a few years after her book was published. You can learn more about her life in this memorial book published by her friends and family: Frances Stuart Parker: Reminiscences and Letters (1907). Chicago, Privately Printed.

©Eric Smith 2017, permission to print on Legends of America.

About the Author: Eric Smith has been a carpenter and contractor for over 30 years, and specializes in 19th and early 20th century home renovations. He’s also a former home improvement editor at The Family Handyman Magazine, and the editor or author of numerous how-to books and magazine articles.

Lost Skills of the 19th Century is a wide-ranging collection of (mostly) useful arts no longer widely known or practiced, discovered in the pages of long-forgotten classics of Americana like The Practical Distiller, American Artillerist’s Companion, The Farmer’s Cabinet, The Orphan’s Friend and Housekeeper’s Assistant, The Ball-room Bijou, A Manual for Attendants in Hospitals for the Insane, The Prairie Traveler, Wilson’s Book of Recitations, Practical Hints for Furniture Men, How to Make a Shoe, Skilful Suzy, The White House Cookbook, and dozens of others.

Lost Skills of the 19th Century has valuable tips and information for homesteaders, craftspeople, history enthusiasts, carpenters, historical reenactors, and survivalists – but most of all it’s a book to help you travel back in time to a younger and very different America.

Also See:

Women in American History