History of the League: The Early years 1925 – 1950

Oct 21, 2021 | Teacher's Corner

An interesting articled Written by Prunella Stack in 1950

Extract from the ‘TEXT BOOK of HEALTH: Bagot stack system’ – used as part of the original teacher training program.
Compiled by Letty Morrison, M.C.S.P. Qualified Teacher of the Women’s League of Health and Beauty 1950.

Exercise at home during lockdown

“Mrs Bagot Stack, the Founder of the Women’s League of Health and Beauty and originator of the Bagot Stack Stretch-and-Swing System of Exercises, described in this book, was born in Dublin in 1883.  She trained before the 1914-1918 war, with Mrs Josef Conn at the Conn Institute in London, and there she learned the remedial exercises which were to prove the foundation of her work.


During the period 1918 and 1925, she taught these exercises to private patients sent to her by doctors, and to small classes of women.  Her system, therefore, had a remedial basis, but she amplified and enlarged the original exercises to comprise a complete training of physique, and later developed sequences of exercises for each part of the body, which she set to music.


By 1925, she felt ready, and indeed impelled to pass on her work to a wider sphere.  In order to do this, she founded the Bagot Stack Health School, which undertook to train girls in “Health, Grace and Expression”.  The course lasted for 2 years, and comprised Health Exercises, Public Speaking and training in teaching, taught by Mrs Bagot Stack herself;  and Greek, National and other forms of dancing taught by her partner, Marjorie Duncombe.  Peggy and Joan St Lo were among the first batch of students trained, and their work is an example of the high standard which was set.


Mrs Stack’s aim was to train her students towards an unself-conscious grace, and a harmony of movement, mind and body.  She felt that a woman’s system of physical training should be expressive rather than athletic, and should aim to bring out the best in the trainee.  Above all, that it should fit her for successful childbirth – that criterion of any system of physical training for women.  Some notable results have now been achieved in this direction.


By 1930. Mrs Stack had ready a small band of trained teachers, and with these she launched the Women’s League of Health and Beauty.  Its object was to make expert tuition in health exercises available to all women at a price which all could afford.  In addition, Mrs Stack believed that women could be the “architects of the future”.  By gaining for themselves and passing on to their children the highest standard of health of mind, body and spirit, they could make a real contribution towards the peace and happiness of the world.


The League’s financial resources were limited – it started with only 16 pounds capital, subscribed by 16 original members, but it was rich in enthusiasm and the idealism and inspiration of its Founder.  Classes multiplied in London and soon provincial  centres were opened – among others, Belfast in 1030,  Birmingham and Glasgow in 1932.  By 1935 centres had been established in many large cities, 50 students were in training at the Bagot Stack Health School, and plans were in formation to open centres in Canada and Australia.


Then the League suffered a severe setback in the death of its Founder, who had known she was suffering from a fatal illness for several years but had refused to give up until “her League” was firmly established.  By the time of her death she had succeeded in training a staff who were sufficiently imbued with her ideals and belief in the League to be able to carry it on.  In the same year Thea Stanley Hughes travelled out to Australia and established the first League centre there in Sydney, subsequently opening a Training school and training teachers who could spread the work in Australia:  while the first League centre was opened in Toronto Canada.


An important feature of the League’s development during these years was the annual Demonstration and Rally of its members which grew in size from the original performances of a few hundred members in Hyde Park and the Albert Hall, London, under Mrs Stack, to the Mass Displays in Wembley Stadium when in 1937 and 1939 5,000 members assembled from all parts of the British Isles, and from Canada and Australia.


In 1937 the National Fitness Council was formed in Britain and I was asked to join it, as a representative of the League;  and in the following two years the League sent teams abroad to demonstrate its work at Physical Education Congresses in Germany, Finland and Sweden.


By 1939 The League membership numbered 166 000 and over 100 teachers had trained at the Bagot Stack Health School.  Almost all these teachers were called up into war service from 1939 to 1945.  Classes continued in over 50 centres as a result of the devoted efforts of advanced League members who became Practice Class Leaders, and attended yearly Summer Refresher Courses.  Some teachers found it possible to continue League teaching with their war work and they made a notable contribution towards the League’s continuation.  These members and teachers led by Peggy and Joan St Lo (whose classes in London continued throughout the war, often during the bombing raids) kept the League together during the war years when the majority of the teachers and members were prevented from any active participation.  In many cases, however, members on war work or in services, carried their League training into their new life and found its high standards and ideals of great practical benefit.

In 1946 the first post-war Display and Re-Union of the League was held at the Empire Pool, Wembley.  1500 members took part.  The Teacher Training School was reopened in London in the same year and from then on, as Teachers became available, former centres were enabled to start up again.  Teachers were sent out to Canada, where Practice classes had continued throughout the war, and the League membership soon reached the ten thousand mark.


Now that the League is twenty years old and is firmly established as one of the great social and recreative movements of our times, it is interesting to look back to its pioneering days and to realize how far in advance of her time was Mrs Stack’s work and outlook….

Prunella in Cape Town

At the same time it should be remembered that Mrs Stack was progressive to a high degree.  “Movement is life” was the motto which she chose as the League’s emblem, and her greatest reward would have been to see her work and system develop, expand and be amplified in conjunction with new trends in physical training.  That the staff whom she trained have kept this ideal in mind and have maintained her system as fluid rather than stereotyped, is to her lasting credit and reflects a measure of her personality and inspiration.”

(Prunella Stack n 1950)