the evils of pedestrianism*

Professional walking events were hugely popular in the 1870s.

1870s Yale rugby team found here

Typical of many pedestrians, Exilda La Chapelle was a young immigrant. According to her accounts, she was born in 1859 in Marseilles, France. By the age of thirteen Exilda was walking for a living. As a “pedestrienne,” she probably walked several hours a night, in taverns and small theaters throughout Canada and the Northern United States. Pedestrian performances were considered exciting entertainment, especially when spectators wagered on the contests. Large numbers of people came to see the girl walk. Yet many spectators and other citizens considered pedestriennes to be “fallen women.”

1870s French doll found here

An English woman in Brooklyn, Ada Anderson, attempted a seemingly impossible task, to walk 2700 quarter-miles in 2700 consecutive quarter-hours. Towards the end of her month-long endeavor, thousands of people, including well-heeled gentlemen and society belles paid up to $1 apiece to see the walk. Madame Anderson’s successful finish was reported as front page news throughout America. In New York, Boston, and Washington, women feverishly walked the sawdust rings.

Man heels found here

In Chicago, Madame La Chapelle resumed her walking efforts. Despite the fact that she looked like a young girl, Chicago newspapers called her “one of the greatest female pedestrians.” During Exilda’s month-long walk at the Folly Theatre, the newspapers reported extensively on her weight (which began at about 100 pounds and ended at 92 pounds), physical appearance (an assortment of tasteful dresses and leggings), mental disposition (ranging from happy to discouraged), and diet (raw oysters, eggs, beef tea, sherry).

not this kind of Sherry

From January 25 to February 22, 1879, Exilda walked a quarter mile every fifteen minutes. Despite the obvious pain of sore feet and lack of sleep, she never publicly complained. And somehow she gained a second wind. Women patrons presented her with expensive jewelry, and less affluent admirers presented her with bouquets and applause. At the finish, La Chappelle not only broke the previous record, but shattered it, making 3,000 quarter miles.

jewelry infused water bottles found here

Not everyone was pleased with Exilda’s performance, or similar feats. In New York, the Women’s Christian Temperence Union decried the evil of pedestrianism. The Washington Post, while favorably covering local pedestrienne contests, compared watching La Chapelle’s walk to viewing the Spanish Inquisition.

*From an article by Dahn Shaulis found here

Published in: on January 11, 2011 at 9:05 am  Comments (33)  
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33 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. So, was it a casual saunter, a sultry amble, or a sweaty stride?
    I could walk and get paid for it, happily.

    • At different times it was all three

  2. I have visions of giant hamster wheels.

    • C’mon baby, share your drugs….

  3. A hustle here and a hustle there
    New York City’s the place where they say,
    Hey babe, take a walk on the wild side.

    Hard to believe those New York Christian Temperance bitches would decry walking. Is there a city that’s better suited for a nice, long walk than New York?

    • Aw! UB beat me to the punch.(he’s right on both counts.)

  4. I’ve spent much of my life walking. And I have eaten many eggs, drunk much beef tea and sherry (separately). Never had a woman throw jewellery at me. Maybe I should have started eating oysters.

    • Ah, oysters….. one of the world’s most delicious things!

  5. Walking is done when the TV remote has gone missing?

    • And when I run out of milk

  6. They rant about this big long p- something word at church all the time. It means they already know if you are going to heaven or hell.So it doesn’t matter how you live. But if you don’t try to be good you really go to hell even if you were supposed to go to heaven, You can’t change it but you have to try anyway. Yeah. Pre-something or other.

  7. Did the Yale rugby team win any games ?

    [They look awfy skinny to be rugby players – a good gust of wind would likely knock them off their feet] 🙄

    • It’s the corsetry they’e wearing that makes them look so skinny

  8. People got paid to walk around? And it was thought of as exciting entertainment? Nice work if you can get it.

  9. I would happily earn money from walking but I doubt I am a Captain Barclay!

  10. Very cool to learn the origin of the word “pedestrian”. It makes my feet hurt just thinking about walking for a month straight. Ouch.

  11. Evil Pedestrians! Run the over!

    • Evil Malach! Banish him from the barbecue!

  12. My boots were made for walking and that’s just what they’ll do.

    • And one of these days these boots are gonna walk all over you

  13. how would you wager on a woman walking by herself? “I say she turns left when the track curves – who wants to take ‘right’?”

  14. So, I could get paid for walking Ruby? Some of the fads of the past are simply jaw dropping.

  15. I followed your link and read the whole piece…I still can’t work out the attraction of this as a spectator sport but thanks for enlightening me.

    • I can’t grasp it either.

      • It’s ungraspable Nicole 😦

  16. It’s definitely something to show to anyone who’s put the words “Likes long walks” in a personal ad.

  17. Still more compelling than 99.9% of reality tv.

    • But not as compelling as watching paint dry

  18. Walk around the clock …

  19. Walking competitions? Were the ladies doing it with their tops off? Because I think that’s the only way you’d get me to watch one of them.

    • I’ll walk that way for you RF

  20. The British jockey, Richard Dunwoody, recently completed a charity walk which reprised a famous 19th C bet: to walk 1000miles in 1000hours. To do this meant walking one mile in an hour, resting when completed but doing it all over again in the next hour, 1000 times. Yes, 1000miles was covered – but also about 1000 30minute cat naps! Forty days without a good night’s sleep – don’t think I could have ‘done woody’ after that……

  21. I guess it was better than the previous fad – competitive sitting, also known as stooling. It took years to master the subtle strategies of the sport, but alas, too many contests ended in a tie, and the public quickly moved on to the breathtakingly fast sport of pedestrianism.

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