Fit Citizens: A History of Black Women's Exercise from Post-Reconstruction to Postwar America by Ava Purkiss


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Participants : 
  • Ava Purkiss, Assistant Professor of American Culture & Women's and Gender Studies
  • Jennifer Dominique Jones, Assistant Professor of History & Women's and Gender Studies 
  • Megan Sweeney, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, Associate Professor, Departments of English, Afroamerican & African Studies, Women's and Gender Studies
Event Date: 
September 28, 2023
Event Time: 
4:00pm to 5:20pm
Lane Hall and Zoom


At the turn of the twentieth century, as African Americans struggled against white social and political oppression, Black women devised novel approaches to the fight for full citizenship. In opposition to white-led efforts to restrict their freedom of movement, Black women used various exercises—calisthenics, gymnastics, athletics, and walking—to demonstrate their physical and moral fitness for citizenship. In the first historical study of Black women's exercise, Ava Purkiss reveals that physical activity was not merely a path to self-improvement but also a means to expand notions of Black citizenship. Through this narrative of national belonging, Purkiss explores how exercise enabled Black women to reimagine Black bodies, health, beauty, and recreation in the twentieth century. Fit Citizens places Black women squarely within the history of American physical fitness and sheds light on how African Americans gave new meaning to the concept of exercising citizenship.

This event is part of IRWG’s Gender: New Works, New Questions series, which spotlights new books by our faculty. This event will be presented in-person in Lane Hall, with an option for audience to watch via Zoom. There will be a raffle for attendees to win a free copy of the book!

Register here.