Karen Witemeyer ~ Extreme Makeover: 19th Century Edition

Please join the Fillies in a big YEEHAW for Karen’s 5 Spur review of A Tailor-Made Bride from Love Western Romances


Karen WitemeyerDo you ever watch those makeover shows? Perhaps a talk show host takes an audience member backstage and sics her personal stylist on her. Over the course of an hour the woman gets her hair cut, dyed, and styled; has her make-up redone by a specialist; and trades in her ho-hum duds for a chic new outfit that flatters her in all the right places. She emerges at the end of the episode to oohs and aahs and wild applause.

Or maybe you’ve seen the transformations on shows like The Biggest Loser where people spend months with personal trainers and dieticians and drastically recreate themselves into models of healthy living. They lose hundreds of pounds and metamorphose from couch potatoes into marathon runners.

I have to admit to watching these shows from time-to-time. There is something about them that inspires me. Maybe it’s the fantasy of a having a fairy godmother hiding in my closet, ready to pop out with her magic wand whenever I have a bad hair day. Or perhaps it’s the desire to rediscover that fit person inside me that I somehow lost track of after three babies and the onset of middle age. The more I got to thinking about it, the more I thought it would be fun to incorporate some of that inspiration into my stories. But how? I write historicals. Did women of the 19th century have any understanding of physical fitness?

As it turns out, they did.Catharine Beecher

In my research for A Tailor-Made Bride, I discovered that a social reformation movement regarding physical fitness for women and children swept our nation back in the mid-1800s.

After the Industrial Revolution, many people left farms and ranches to find employment in nearby cities. Because they were no longer working the fields, their lives became increasingly sedentary. This led to a great decline in women’s health, especially among the middle and upper classes. Reformers like Catharine Beecher (sister to the famous abolitionist and author, Harriet Beecher Stowe) spoke out on the need for regular exercise among women and children. She published a book in 1856 entitled Physiology and Calisthenics for Schools and Families where she describes an exercise system that could be utilized in schools or at home.

Perhaps the Dioclesian Lewismost influential reformer of this era, however, was a man named Dioclesian Lewis. In the 1860s he developed a system of light gymnastics for women and children and went on to found a school specifically to instruct physical education teachers, most of whom were women. He lectured extensively and wrote several books on the subject of fitness, the most notable being The New Gymnastics for Men, Women and Children, published in 1862. It is this book that my heroine, Hannah Richards, follows so diligently.

During the course of the story, Hannah employs many of the devices Professor Lewis advocated, such as small wooden duIndian Club Exercisembbells, Indian clubs, and exercise rings.

The guiding principle was to use small weights with many repetitions. In this way women and children could participate in the same manner as the men. Professor Lewis even recounts a story of how several of his young male students scoffed at the two-pound dumbbells, claiming they needed more weight to make the exercises challenging. However, after they completed the regimen with three-pound weights, they unanimously returned to the lighter ones. Hannah issues a similar challenge to Jericho Tucker at his initial mockery of her routine. After trying it for himself, the livery owner, like the young men at Professor Lewis’s academy, changed his tune.

Hannah uses her knowledge of calisthenics as well as her skill with a needle to affect a 19th century makeover for Jericho’s sister, Cordelia. But these outer changes can’t compete with the inward transformation taking place within Hannah and Jericho, themselves.

What inspires you the most about makeover stories? Have you ever experienced one yourself? Ever made a change in your own life after witnessing the effects of a similar change in someone else’s?



Karen is giving away to a copy of A Tailor-Made Bride, so pop in and join the discussion. Here’s a little taste of the book – so you know what you’ll be getting.

Tailor-Made Bride cover-small

A Tailor-Made Bride

When a dressmaker who values beauty tangles with a liveryman who condemns vanity, the sparks begin to fly!

Jericho “J.T.” Tucker wants nothing to do with the new dressmaker in Coventry, Texas. He’s all too familiar with her kind—shallow women more devoted to fashion than true beauty. Yet, except for her well-tailored clothes, this seamstress is not at all what he expected.

Hannah Richards is confounded by the man who runs the livery. The unsmiling fellow riles her with his arrogant assumptions and gruff manner, while at the same time stirring her heart with unexpected acts of kindness. Which side of Jericho Tucker reflects the real man?

When Hannah decides to help Jericho’s sister catch a beau–leading to consequences neither could have foreseen–will Jericho and Hannah find a way to bridge the gap between them?

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44 thoughts on “Karen Witemeyer ~ Extreme Makeover: 19th Century Edition”

  1. Karen, what a informative post. I never thought about fitness reform in the 1800’s, but man that’s a great premise. Thanks for sharing. That’s what I love about this loop, everyone shares their experiences and research so we all learn something new every day! Can hardly wait to pick up your book. Thanks for telling us about a fun subject … well not particularly the exercise but the subject itself!

  2. Welcome Karen, thanks for the great post,so interesting,sounds like a great book to not be able to lay down,thanks again!

  3. I have been looking forward to this post. I am one of those who would rather exercise by working in the yard so I can see why women moving away from farm work would be in some ways detrimental to their health.

    Hand in hand with PE, a major change was the eventual riddance of the dreaded corset!

    Again, great post and I look forward to reading your book whether I win it or buy it!

  4. I like the way you think/thought. It’s amazing how questioning one thing can lead to (lots of) research and thus become a book. I look forward to reading it and I thank you for the inspiration!

  5. I love the cover of your book. It says so much when you take a second look and really see what is happening.
    I love old books and have noticed several that were printed in the mid and later 1800s that mention exercising for children and adults. When you think of it, just a change just to “city living” instead of hard farm work would have made a little difference, but they were still walking everywhere they went and did not spend their time watching TV, sitting at the computer, or playing video games. Children actually went outside and played. It wasn’t the 1800s, but when we were kids, we were always outside running around and playing. Staying inside was usually a punishment.
    Never knew anyone who had a full blown makeover. The closest have been several friends who have had gastric bypass surgery and had large weight losses. For most it did make a big difference in their lives. They got new wardrobes and became more active. For one, it was almost a complete personality change with her becoming much more self-assured and out-going.
    A TAILOR-MADE BRIDE sounds like it will be a enjoyable story. A brother will sometime see his sister as the sweet thing she is and doesn’t realize how she or others may see her. They don’t understand the need for a woman to feel special and good about herself. I hope the release goes well. I look forward to reading it.

  6. I agree with Patricia. I LOVE the cover. I will definately have to read this book. I’ll cross my fingers and maybe my name will be picked for a copy. Have a great weekend.
    Hugs, Cathy

  7. Wonderful post which resounds with me. I believe that it is important and vital to make chages before it is too late and we can all benefit from them both inside and out. Thanks for this inspiring and interesting post.

  8. Karen, what a fascinating, informative post! I remember watching Ken Burn’s ‘Baseball’, women tried to form leagues in the mid 1800’s to play, Yow, the outcry! Not lady-like! Imagine trying to run the bases in those long skirts! But, they did.
    Your books sounds wonderful, all the best for its release!

  9. What an interesting post! I do enjoy reading about makeovers in books and watching them on TV. I guess I am a bit envious,too, because I would love for a team of experts to do a miracle makeover of me! 🙂

    Your book sounds wonderful. I like the premise of seeing beyond the outward appearance(plain or pretty) to the person beneath. The cover is great because it shows so much of the tone and theme of the book.

  10. Very informative. I never knew that about exercise in the 1800s.
    I would love to read this book. Even if I don’t win, I will have to buy a copy soon.

  11. Great post! I love the cover of your book and it sounds really good! I have never thought about women and exercise back in the eighteen hundreds, I guess I just thought they got there exercise from the work they did, because some women had to work very hard!

  12. exercise came into play decades ago and to this day I still can’t keep up a regime. I am so lax about exercise; although now I started walking and of course it rains and rains.
    Very interesting about the makeover of the sister and how she and the brother get involved. Thanks for sharing.

  13. What a wonderful basket full of comments! Sorry I’m so late getting to the party. Two of my kids are having a combined birthday/swim party and we’ve been working all morning getting the house ready. Whew! Am glad for the excuse to get out of the Texas heat!

  14. Phyliss,
    I so agree! P&P is one of my favorite blogs because there is always something fabulous to learn from all the fillies and their guests. I’m so glad you enjoyed our peek into 19th century fitness.

  15. Julie, your comment made me smile because I am the exact opposite. Yard work is like punnishment to me. In fact, the best way I’ve found to keep myself motivated to exercise is to read a great historical romance while walking on the treadmill. So far, I’ve not fallen off, though I have gotten close a time or two. That probably also explains why I still haven’t gotten my spring flowers planted and it’s nearly summer.

  16. Laney – you really hit the nail on the head. That is exactly how plots snowball. You ask one question which leads to research which leads to more questions and more research…etc. The trick is figuring out which rabbit trail to follow.

  17. Patricia – Thanks so much for your well-wishes. I really appreciate it. I was so pleased with how the cover turned out. They really captured the feel of the book in that shot.

  18. Hi, Ellie. I’m with you. As my 40th birthday is fast approaching, I’m trying to make better choices for my health. I don’t always succeed, but I try to walk 2 miles every morning and to eat sensibly. I want to have the health to enjoy my children, and in the years to come, their children.

  19. Karyn – I’m amazed at the sports women played in those long skirts. The end of the 1800s saw a great rise in cycling, tennis, ice skating, and all manner of sports for women – and they did it all in those long skirts. Amazing! I haven’t reserached the baseball angle besides watching A League of Their Own, but I can picture them out there showing up those outcriers!

  20. Lyn and Anon – Thanks for stopping by today. I appreciate it!

    Cheryl – I’ve often wished for one of those makeovers, too. But a little part of me is afraid I wouldn’t like what they did to me. LOL. I guess I’m too much of a control freak.

  21. Jen and Quilt Lady – Great to have you both here at the Junction today! I didn’t know much about this early fitness movement either until I started digging. Sometimes research can really be fun.

  22. Hi, Robyn. Thanks for your interest in Hannah and Jericho’s story. The only way I beat the rain and heat when I exercise is to use a treadmill. I bought one several years ago and have never regretted the investment. Enjoy the long weekend!

  23. Hey Karen, welcome to the Junction and CONGRATULATIONS on the 5-spurs from our friends at LoveWesternRomances!

    So these are the folks I get to blame for my high school phys ed classes, right? I hated PE, mostly because I wasn’t good at anything. Except music and reading–but those didn’t count until college, when marching band counted as PE. 😀

  24. Karen Congrats on your 5 Spur review! Your book sounds wonderful! 😀
    As for makeovers and transformations… I love the confidence that people build… Thanks for sharing your post with us today!

  25. Hi, Tracy. I was thrilled to see that 5 star review. I respect those reviewers at LWR a great deal and was really holding my breath. What a blessing!

    Yes, we can blame Dio Lewis for all those PE classes. I was one of those who loved music and reading, too. I even did marching band in college for a year, before I met my soon-to-be husband and switched to choir to be with him. LOL.

  26. very interesting! i would not have thought of them working out back in the day…but i spose the city folk and wealthy would need to keep a movin’
    sounds like a really fun story–like the others i LOVE your cover!

    makeover for me….last summer i joined a csa and also ate vegan….i ate all day long–all whole foods–fresh veggies and fruits and the weight fell off–i felt great!
    some “junk” has snuck back in…so i’m working my way back towards health again 🙂

    remember that show, “the swan” i think it only had one season…i thought that was interesting

  27. Hi, Colleen. Great to have you here today. I agree about the added confidence those makeovers provide. Sometimes we don’t like to admit that our inner and outer selves are connected, but they are, at least to some degree.

  28. Enjoyed reading the comments. I don’t watch much TV so don’t keep up with those kinds of shows. I did however change my hair from mousy-brown to blonde and lost some weight. Not much of a transformation but for me it worked.

  29. Hey, Joye. We must be on the same wavelength. Last year, I added blonde highlights for the first time ever to my mousy-brown hair. I’m still working on the weight. Down about 5 pounds and happy about that. My husband liked the hair change, so I guess I’m keeping it. LOL

  30. A friend of mine talked me into going to a weight loss clinic with her. I lost 80lbs and feel I a new woman. It’s so much fun to shop for clothes…and I did a hair change too. Added 20 inch extensions to my baby fine locks….my hubby loves it!!!

  31. Wow, I love the cover of your book! It is so pretty. I have been waiting for your book to be released, saw the book on CBD. Just like everyone else who posted, I was surprised that people exercised back in the 1800’s. I have gone through periods in my life that I exercised everyday for several years then got tired of it and stopped only to start again when I put on too much weight. It’s a never ending state of mind. Congraduations on your book!!!

  32. Thanks, Sharon. I couldn’t have been more pleased with how the cover turned out. Bethany House did a wonderful job!

    It’s hard to keep up with exercising, isn’t it? I struggle, too. That’s why I read while I do it as much as possible. Gotta find that motivator! Have a wonderful holiday weekend!

  33. Wow, I thought exercise was a necessary evil created in my lifetime. By the way, I absolutely love the cover art! Would love to win a copy.

    What motivation to know that when you hit a brick wall it’s not the end. That is good motivation in all areas of like. A brick wall may arise somewhere but God will always open a door somewhere so you can walk through the wall.

    Cindy W.


  34. Karen, your blog was so interesting to read. I never thought about people needing to find other forms of exercise in the 1800’s. To think that someone had the forethought to come up with routines that women and children were able to do in order to stay in shape is wonderful – that you were able to incorporate it into your book is even better. I’ve heard a lot about your book and can’t wait to read it. A chance to win it would be even better! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your knowledge with us!

    God’s blessings –

  35. Hi Karen, I did not realize a book had been written about exercise in 1860. I did not know people exercised other than sports type exercise.

    When I start researching I get carried away and one thing leads to another and hours later I realize I had been side tracked again. lol

    Congrats on your new release and good luck.

  36. I never even thought that exercise was thought of back then. An interesting post. The great thing about the P&P Blog is that as a reader I can come here and learn from the Authors who share all they’ve learned through research. It’s a fantastic blog. Love your cover and will keep my fingers crossed.
    Carol L.

  37. This is one of my favorite blogs. I’ve visited all the women’s websites many times. So second time tonight I located you and your book. Would love to win a copy to review.

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