In 1930 Mary Bagot Stack created the Women’s League of Health & Beauty. Her vision was of “a league of women who will renew their energy in themselves and for themselves day by day”.
She believed completely in the power of women to make the world a better place to live in.
Her work started in London where in 1925 she opened her Bagot Stack Health School. By 1930 she had trained enough enthusiastic young teachers to help her launch her ‘Women’s League’ which enjoyed immediate and outstanding success – the growth was spectacular. Mary Bagot Stack was a total inspiration and her ‘health training’ classes combined exactly the right mixture of hard work and fun so that after only 7 years since its inception 166,000 women had joined the League.
Mary Bagot Stack died in 1935 at the age of 50. That her movement has survived more than 70 years beyond her death is testament not only to the devotion that she inspired in her daughter Prunella and friends Peggy and Joan St.Lo who carried on her work, but to the true and lasting value of the idea itself.
The outbreak of the Second World War arrested the League’s startling expansion as many teachers and members responded to the call to National Service. Peggy and Joan St.Lo carried on the administration in London, while 50 centres across the country were kept going by teachers who also ran special classes, raised funds and organised entertainments for factory, civil defence, nurses and service personnel.
After the war there was an increase in the number of teachers and members as classes and the Bagot Stack Health College re-opened, but the extraordinary growth seen in the pre-war years was never to be repeated in the UK.
The league became fully established in South Africa when Prunella Stack brought a demonstration to the City Hall in Cape Town in 1951. With her she brought a young and enthusiastic League teacher called Barbara Keys who remained in South Africa and dedicated her life to the League. She fast established classes in Cape Town and Johannesburg. Under the guidance of Prunella, Barbara trained teachers in the Bagot Stack system and classes in South Africa flourished. Back in the UK, the League produced regular shows at the Royal Albert Hall in London to which all affiliated members were invited. South African teams would regularly travel to the UK to perform at the Royal Albert Hall. Still, to this day, a South African team is represented at the Royal Albert Hall Show which is currently held every five years. Here groups from all over the UK and countries across the world demonstrate their capabilities and celebrate their involvement in the League.
The League is also going strong in Ireland, Canada, Scotland and New Zealand.
In 1999, the Women’s League of Health and Beauty changed its name to ‘The Fitness League’ with the motto ‘Movement is life’. Prunella continued to be actively involved with the Fitness League until her death in 2010. Her granddaughter Saba Douglas Hamilton continues to develop the Bagot Stack system and deliver it to fresh audiences.
The continuing popularity of Mary Bagot Stack’s ‘League’ rests in the fact that its exercise principles are based on the structure of the human body which never changes. Her recipe for classes – hard work, good fun, sociable – has a lasting appeal for the thousands who have enjoyed high levels of fitness for the greater part of their lives.