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The Rise of the Broom Brigade

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Today’s post is guest authored by Michelle Cadoree Bradley, a Science Reference Specialist in the Library’s Science, Technology, and Business Division.

BroomTacticsOn a search for early materials on physical education for women, I stumbled across a small green book with an intriguing title – Broom Tactics, or Calisthenics in a New Form for Young Ladies. This publication from 1883 led me to an unexplored aspect of calisthenics — marching drills — and a little known subject of the drill teams called broom brigades and broom drill societies, which flourished in the late 1800s and early 1900s.

This short work by Lt. Hugh T. Reed prompted me to find what else was available for these brigades. I found other titles scattered though the collections, largely under the subject of “marching drills.” One was The Loyal Legion Drill Manual Illustrated by Lt. Jos. H. Barnett, (First Infantry, I. N. G.), published by the Woman’s Temperance Publication Association, 1886. (Barnett published this manual in 1885 as Barnett’s Broom Drill, Brigade Tactics, School of the Company, and Manual of Arms), which was reprinted in several editions, including this one from 1890.

From Loyal Legion Drill Manual Illustrated. (1886)
From Loyal Legion Drill Manual Illustrated. (1886)

The Loyal Legion Drill Manual Illustrated contains a few of my favorite images, such as the Order-Rear View, showing a monogrammed dustpan carried on the back in place of a pack. These and other illustrations are re-used and available for view on HathiTrust in Barnett’s Broom Brigade Tactics and Fan Drill.

Other works on calisthenics from the 1880s also contained sections on “broom drill.” For example, this work by Alfred Beale, Calisthenics and Light Gymnastics for Home and School (1888), includes a “broom drill” section with many supporting illustrations.

From Calisthenics and Light Gymnastics for Home and School. (1888)
From Calisthenics and Light Gymnastics for Home and School. (1888)

Perhaps interest in broom brigades and drills will re-spark and again “sweep the nation” as a form of fun exercise. If so, here are some titles on Marching Drills that are a must for any library.

Comments (5)

  1. Interesting. Know of any modern books on this aspect of women’s culture and how these drills and exercises contributed to the women’s rights movement of the time? Thanks.

  2. I’m thinking it is time for a broom brigade again…

  3. @ MC Bradley – Thank you so much for your reply. The links are a great start.

    ( I am quite sad that I do not have physical access to this amazing library. )

  4. I confess I was only looking at the books, not at a broader sociological movement. I did several searches in the literature but did not find anything on this subject in particular. You might wish to look at the broader impact of the sports/physical culture movement on suffrage and women’s rights. Or perhaps overall on how women’s clubs impacted the women’s rights movement?
    Vertinsky, Patricia Anne, 1942- The eternally wounded woman : women, doctors, and exercise in the late nineteenth century / Patricia A. Vertinsky. Illini Books ed. Urbana [Ill.] : University of Illinois Press, 1994.
    279 p. ; 23 cm.
    GV482 .V47 1994
    The female tradition in physical education : ‘Women first’ reconsidered / edited by David Kirk and Patricia Vertinsky. London ; New York : Routledge, 2016.
    xiii, 226 pages ; 24 cm.
    GV439 .F37 2016
    Harvey, Jean (Professor) author. Sport and social movements : from the local to the global / Jean Harvey, John Horne, Parissa Safai, Simon Darnell and Sébastien Courchesne-O’Neill. London : Bloomsbury, 2015.©2014
    1 volume ; 24 cm.
    Hentges, Sarah, 1976- Women and fitness in American culture / Sarah Hentges. Jefferson, North Carolina : McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, [2014]
    ix, 251 pages ; 24 cm
    RA778 .H457 2014


    The Physical is Political: Women’s Suffrage, Pilgrim Hikes and the Public Sphere. International Journal of the History of Sport 27(7):1133-1153 ·
    Empowering the Physical and Political Self: Women and the Practice of Self-Defense, 1890–1920. The Journal of the Gilded Age and Progressive Era v. 13, no. 4: pp. 470-499.
    Vertinsky, Patricia. “Feminist Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Pursuit of Health and Physical Fitness as a Strategy for Emancipation.” Journal of Sport History 16.1 (1989): 5-26.

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