Collection of the week: Bedford Physical Education Old Students' Association Archive
Collection of the week: Bedford Physical Education Old Students' Association Archive

Whether you're already pounding the treadmill down at the gym, or still finishing off a tub of Quality Street, health and fitness is an unavoidable theme of early January. And as we like to be topical here at Mary Evans, we thought we'd revisit a collection that energetically evokes women's sporting life in the first half of the twentieth century. The Bedford Physical Education Old Students Association (BPEOSA) Archive is a terrific set of photographs dating from 1903 to the 1940s, and chronicles the way in which fitness was becoming an acknowledged and integral part of education for a growing number of women during this period.

The founder of the Bedford College of Physical Training (later the Bedford College of Physical Education) was Margaret Stansfeld, Principal from 1903 to 1945, who succeeded in developing a strong female tradition of sports and gymnastics against opposition from a male-dominated society. Stansfeld appears in one of the photographs surrounded by female colleagues. Elsewhere the girls fence, play lacrosse, netball and hockey, and perform some cracking dances and gymnastic displays. Away from their studies, Edwardian students enjoy picnics or boating on the river in a series of evocative images. And in one superb photograph from 1928, four young women are pictured smoking in a rather louche manner while wearing pyjamas. Also notable is a photo of a student hanging from her fingertips on the outside of a building; the only hint to what is going on is the truly terrifying caption 'fire drill'.

A fascinating slice of women's history, click here to browse a selection of images from the BPEOSA. We have many more images in our archive of women and sport through the decades. Do get in touch if we can help with this or any other subject by calling 020 8318 0034 or emailing

Mary Evans Picture Library Ltd.  59 Tranquil Vale  Blackheath  London  SE3 0BS. United Kingdom.
Unsubscribe here