Health in Motion: I move, therefore I am

As many of us face the challenge of managing our mental and physical well-being during the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, we look to the doyenne of movement and pioneer of dance, Margaret Morris, for inspiration…

Scrabble letters laid out to spell out 'Mental Health'In 2018, a YouGov online poll (based on a sample of 4619 participants) recorded that 74% of people have felt so stressed that they have been overwhelmed or unable to cope, 61% felt anxious and 37% lonely due to isolation. A further 36% of adults who reported stress in the previous year cited either their own or a friend/relative’s long-term health condition as a factor, rising to 40% in adults over 55. Housing worries were another key source of anxiety. In 2013, there were 8.2 million recorded cases of anxiety in the UK.

Reproduction of an image illustrating CoronavirusIn 2020, we can now add the stresses and strains of coronavirus (COVID-19) into the mental health mix. There is little doubt that current measures around social distancing and restrictions on movement – in place to protect ourselves and others from coronavirus – are exacerbating the collective strain on mental and physical well-being. Mental health organisation websites (such as the Mental Health Foundation, Mind, and the Scottish Association for Mental Health) are all leading with how to protect our mental well-being during the coronavirus pandemic. On 27 March 2020, the Scottish Government announced an additional £3.8 million investment to expand support for digital mental health services specifically in response to further demand as a result of the current crisis.

As our first-hand experience of social isolation informs our understanding of its impact, many of us are developing a new found empathy for those who had been living in social isolation pre-coronavirus. For those of us accustomed to leading active lives and moving around freely, we are now having to consider carefully the new risks associated with moving and exercising outwith our homes. For many of us, physical movement will be at the very bottom of our priority list as we juggle all of our other commitments. After all, just thinking about how to incorporate physical movement into our new daily routine (if we have managed to establish one) can be mentally exhausting given our work, family, child-care, pet-care, carer, domestic, social media, volunteering, and the new plethora of video group-chat catch-up commitments. That’s before we even register the anxiety around actually becoming infected with or transmitting coronavirus.

There are many studies which have shown that doing physical activity can improve mental health by aiding sleep, releasing feel-good hormones, distracting our brains from intrusive and racing thoughts, improving self-esteem, and reducing the risk of depression. All even more important in the current environment. How then, at this time of crisis, do we move physical and mental well-being up the priority list? For help, we decided to look to our archives and into the past. We look to the great doyenne of all things movement and pioneer of dance, Margaret Morris (1891-1980), for some inspiration and guidance.

Reproduction of Front cover of Margaret Morris' Basic Physical Training, 1937, courtesy of Culture Perth and Kinross

Front cover of Margaret Morris’ Basic Physical Training, 1937, courtesy of Culture Perth and Kinross

Ideas around the integration of mind and body are not new. In the 1920s, Margaret Morris, a dancer, choreographer and teacher, was part of a wider campaign that promoted health via ‘movement, wholefood, fresh air etc’. Morris developed her ‘Margaret Morris Movement’ method in which students studied form, line, colour, movement, music, rhythm, sound and composition. When she was interviewed in 1926 for Architecture: the magazine of architecture, the applied arts and crafts, Margaret Morris highlighted one of the primary problems in the area of physical movement which was, (and still is), ‘how can physical exercise be made interesting?’ Morris remarked in her 1937 publication Basic Physical Training, ‘corrective exercises have…excellent results when persisted in long enough – but they are terribly boring to do…’ Morris was convinced that interest could only be done by bringing the creative or artistic element; which she argued was not so difficult or far-fetched as it may at first appear. Underlying her approach was the inter-relation and harmony of all the arts. ‘All movements performed for the establishment of health…must combine the aesthetic as well as the medical values of movement.’

Morris developed and refined her method throughout her lifetime. By 1938, four divisions of Margaret Morris Movement had been established: normal, medical, athletic and aesthetic, all of which were interrelated. Morris propounded the remedial and health benefits of dance and her particular movement method as she witnessed improvements in her dancers’ posture and general health. Morris developed a dance system which, she argued, was more natural than classical ballet and allowed for all the possibilities of movement, including spring and balance, without artificialities or contortions – to allow a true freedom of expression. Many of us are currently experiencing high emotional states, but may be finding it difficult to express ourselves in words. Dance allows individuals to express powerful emotions through their physical bodies perhaps more instinctively and intuitively, and our bodies provide a physical medium through which pent up emotion may be released.

Central to the Margaret Morris Movement method is the science of breathing, and she advocated the teaching of correct breathing before anything else so that the breath is synchronised with movement. Many of the movements she devised are based on a ‘twist of the trunk, with counter-balancing arm and leg movements’. Writing in her book Roar (2016), about female physiology, health and fitness performance, Dr Stacy T. Sims tells us that ‘when our entire torso (collarbone to hip) is strong and solid, so are you.’ Unlike many other sports or physical activities, dance develops core strength as the foundation of every other move. Morris underlines the importance of the lungs, the abdomen and feet in Basic Physical Training claiming, ‘their efficient functioning is unquestionably of the first importance for success in any form of physical activity whatsoever.’

A coloured drawing by Margaret Morris, showing muscles of the arm, drawn as part of her physiotherapy training.

Margaret Morris Movement was informed by Morris’ deep understanding of human anatomy, illustrated here in one of her many anatomical drawings, underaken as part of her physiotherapy studies.  Courtesy of Culture Perth and Kinross

From 1925 Morris began to demonstrate remedial qualities of her movement method to health professionals. In 1930 she qualified as a physiotherapist and by 1937 she was invited to join the National Council for Physical Education. By 1939 Margaret Morris had authored or co-authored a number of publications which described the Margaret Morris Movement method and explained its application to a range of physical activities including dancing, skiing, maternity and post-operative exercises, tennis and basic physical training. The continuing relevance of her ideas was recognised in 2013 in the New Zealand Journal of Physiotherapy in which her ‘maternity exercises’ from 1938, are considered to translate well to the present day, with more evidence to support their use in some instances. Margaret Morris Movement dance teachers continue to teach her technique and dances today to encourage the love of dance and movement for health benefits, satisfaction and performance. You can read more about Margaret Morris and the current work of Margaret Morris Movement International Ltd on their website.

While our freedom of movement may be geographically constrained, why not let Margaret Morris and her dancers inspire you to explore a physical freedom of movement and expression within your home? There is wonderful video footage of Margaret Morris demonstrations to be found online via British Pathé. Perhaps put on some music, breathe a little more deeply and rhythmically, give your trunk a little twist, counter-balance your limbs, think a little less, move a little more. Dance your way physically, through your body, to a better mental space. Alone or with your family, or dare I mention it, shared via video call. Test the assumption of intellectual superiority suggested by Descartes when he declared “I think, therefore I am” and try out our favoured alternative: “I move, therefore I am”.

We hope Margaret Morris will inspire you to add a little physical movement to your day.  Stay safe, stay well, stay home – keep moving.

Elaine MacGillivray – Project Archivist

The Margaret Morris Archive was gifted by the International Association of Margaret Morris Movement to our project partner Culture Perth and Kinross in 2010. Images are courtesy of Culture Perth and Kinross and Margaret Morris Movement International Limited.

The Margaret Morris Archive is being catalogued as part of our Wellcome Research Resource-funded ‘Body Language’ project. The archive is held at the Fergusson Gallery in Perth. The Gallery is currently closed in line with Scottish Government guidance relating to the coronavirus pandemic. Updated information regarding re-opening will be published on the Culture Perth and Kinross Museums web-pages when available.     

Morris, Margaret and Daniels, Fred, Margaret Morris Dancing, (Kegan Paul, 1926)
Morris, Margaret, The Notation of Movement, (Kegan Paul, 1928)
Morris, Margaret and Falkner, Hans, Skiing Exercises, (Heinemann, 1934)
Morris, Margaret and Randell, M., Maternity and Post-Operative Exercises, (Heineman, 1936)
Morris,Margaret, Basic Physical Training, (Heinemann, 1937)
Morris, Margaret, My Life in Movement (1969)
Power, Richenda, Healthy Motion: Images of ‘natural’ and ‘cultured’ movement in early twentieth-century Britain, in Women’s Studies International Forum, Vol 19, Issue 5, (Sept-Oct 1996)
Simpson, Betty and Whitfield, Frank, Notes on the theory of teaching Margaret Morris Movement (1936)
Sims, Stacy T., Roar, (Rodale, 2016)
Hay-Smith, E Jean C, Maternity Exercises 75 years on: what has changed and what does experimental evidence tell us? in New Zealand Journal of Physiotherapy, Vol 41, Number 1, (March 2013)
Miss Margaret Morris at Crosby Hall in The Academy, (25 May 1912), p.658
Architecture, a magazine of architecture and the applied arts and crafts, Vol 4, Issue 10, (London, February 1926).
Margaret Morris Movement International Ltd website
Mental Health Foundation website
Mind: the mental health charity website
The Scottish Association for Mental Health website
The Scottish Government website (news web-pages)

‘Body Language’ exhibition launches to resounding gong!

Project archivist, Elaine MacGillivray, dances us through the magic of the ‘Body Language’ exhibition launch.

Image showing 'Body Language' Exhibition opening times

‘Body Language’ Exhibition opening times

A sudden booming and magical gong hushed invited guests.  Its exotic timbre reverberated throughout the polished black granite, double-height, library foyer.  Chatting paused…drinks suspended.  All eyes turned to the small company of ‘MSc Dance Science and Education’ student dancers as they weaved their way through the standing audience to centre stage. Simple costumes of black leotards and tights were the perfect portal to an emotive and hypnotic choreography.  The audience was transported, invited to come along on a wonderful journey of movement in space and time, as the dancers responded to the percussive gong.  Finally, as the vibrations of the last gong strike gradually faded away, the audience applause occupied the vacancy.  This is how to launch an exhibition.

Last Thursday (25 July 2019) students past and present, academics, professional support staff, volunteers, senior university staff and project partners came together to preview and celebrate the launch of the Wellcome Trust funded archive exhibition ‘Body Language’.  Guests, from all over Scotland, were welcomed by Head of Special Collections and the Centre for Research Collections, Dr Joseph Marshall.  This was followed by opening speeches from Wendy Timmons, Programme Director, MSc Dance Science and Education at the University of Edinburgh, and then from Professor John Ravenscroft, Chair of Childhood Visual Impairment at Moray House School of Education.

The exhibition was declared open and dancers continued to move throughout the exhibition space, responding to percussive instruments, as guests enjoyed their preview exploration of the exhibition.  We were treated to a visual feast of contemporary dance inspired by learning from the (very) tangible past.  The dance students choreographed their work as a creative response to the film ‘The Gong’.  ‘The Gong’ film illustrates dance teaching at Dunfermline College of Physical Education in the 1960s (which included aesthetic and dramatic forms) and is featured in the exhibition.

University of Edinburgh Main Library Exhibition Gallery: 'Body Language' exhibition

University of Edinburgh Main Library Exhibition Gallery: ‘Body Language’ exhibition

The ‘Body Language’ exhibition offers a unique insight into the work and life of Scottish female pioneers in movement, dance and physical education.  We discover this through the archive collections of Dunfermline College of Physical Education (one of the first training colleges for female physical education teachers); Scottish Gymnastics (and its predecessors), and Margaret Morris (1891-1980).  The exhibition features film, photographic images, textiles, printed works and manuscripts from across these three archive collections. The archive collections of Dunfermline College of Physical Education and Scottish Gymnastics are held at the Centre for Research Collections at the University of Edinburgh.  The Margaret Morris collection is held by our project partner, Culture Perth and Kinross, at their Fergusson Gallery in Perth.

The University of Edinburgh’s Main Library Exhibition Gallery buzzed with the chatter of guests, as members of Dunfermline College of Physical Education Old Students’ Association mingled with archive cataloguing project volunteers, current students with professional and curatorial staff, and academics with dancers.  Guests chuckled and nodded in agreement as Professor Ravenscroft compared a visit to the archives to that of a visit to Narnia. We agree that the archives are magical: a treasure chest, full to overflowing, with knowledge, ideas, learning and inspiration.  The curation and staging of this exhibition is the culmination of months, if not years, of collaborative work involving archivists, curators, academics and project partners.  But it is really only the beginning.  The seed has now been planted, from which will grow a range public engagement activities with a variety of communities; academic research, and an enhanced student experience. It is a shining example of how archive collections can inform, inspire, encourage and facilitate inter-disciplinary working, research and creative engagement.

Disclaimer: whilst we agree with Professor Ravenscroft that like Narnia, archives are magical, we must make absolutely clear that they are not fictional, and you definitely cannot access them via the back of your wardrobe.  We know, we checked.  You can however, get yourself along to the University of Edinburgh’s Main Library Exhibition Gallery to experience for yourself the magic of the ‘Body Language’ exhibition.  It’s free and you don’t even need a ticket!

‘Body Language’ runs from 26 July – 26 October 2019 at the University of Edinburgh Main Library Exhibition Gallery, George Square, Edinburgh.  The exhibition is open from Mon-Sat, 10am-5pm, with Sunday opening included in August. The exhibition forms part of the University of Edinburgh’s Exhibition programme as well as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe programme. You can view the student performance from the exhibition launch event here.

Elaine MacGillivray, project archivist.

All Change – Body Language project extended until July 2020

Margaret Morris dancers posing with tree

Margaret Morris dancers posing with tree

We are very pleased to announce that a new project archivist, Elaine MacGillivray, has agreed to take on responsibility for our collaborative Wellcome Research Resource-funded archives project ‘Body Language: movement, dance and physical education in Scotland, 1890-1990’.  Elaine currently manages another Wellcome Research Resource-funded ‘Evergreen: Patrick Geddes and the Environment in Equilibrium’.  With immediate effect, Elaine will split her time 50/50 between the two projects, which means that she will (usually) work Tues-Wed on our Body Language project and Thurs-Fri on the Evergreen Project.  This means that the Body Language project will now extend to July 2020.

The extended project period provides a wonderful opportunity to continue the cataloguing work, explore and highlight the collections further and to open up research opportunities using the collections.

Elaine’s predecessor, Clare Button, has successfully completed a significant amount of work on the project.  We are very grateful for the huge contribution that Clare made to the project and wish her all the very best in her new post as archivist at the London School of Medicine and Dentistry, at Queen Mary University, London.

“Clare has undertaken a tremendous amount of work on the project to date and I very much hope that I can fulfil her ambitions for the project as I take her work forward.  I am also very excited to explore the commonalities between the two projects.  Firstly in terms of the ideas relating to movement, health, art and culture, but also in relation to the people found in the collections material.  I know Margaret Morris visited Patrick Geddes’ Château d’Assas, near Montpellier, at least once, and that they were both connected with Charles Rennie Mackintosh and Margaret Macdonald Mackintosh.” Elaine MacGillivray, project archivist.

Watch this space for the next update!


‘Moving forwards towards perfection’: Dunfermline College of Physical Education

Dunfermline College, original building. Part of the Records of Dunfermline College of Physical Education (EUA IN16)

On this day (4th October) in 1905, the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust College of Hygiene and Physical Training (later renamed Dunfermline College of Physical Education) was founded. It was opened by the Marquis of Linlithgow (who was Secretary for Scotland) in the ‘palatial’ Carnegie Gymnasium in the presence of over 1,000 people. The ceremony was an important milestone in the history of the town of Dunfermline but also Scotland as a whole; this was the first college of physical education of its kind in the country.

Dunfermline had already been home to a number of health-focused amenities, thanks to funding from its native son, the Scottish-American industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie. There was ‘The Carnegie Gymnastics Club’ for young men and, later, a new gymnasium, swimming baths and Turkish Baths on Pilmuir Street.

The Carnegie Baths. Part of Records of Dunfermline College of Physical Education (EUA IN16)

Turkish Baths, Dunfermline. Part of the Records of Dunfermline College of Physical Education (EUA IN16)

The idea of public health and fitness was a growing concern following the publication of the Report of the Royal Commission on Physical Training (Scotland) a year earlier. With widespread poverty and malnutrition, cramped, urban lifestyles and a lack of physical education in schools, the fitness of the general population was found to be severely lacking. The Report effectively recommended compulsory physical education in schools to help combat this.

A syllabus of physical exercises was published for use in public elementary schools and the Carnegie Dunfermline Trustees provided male and female teachers to visit schools weekly and instruct children. However, there was a shortage of teachers specially trained in physical instruction and it was decided that a training college should be formed.

Miss Flora Ogston (daughter of Sir Alexander Ogston, Regius Professor of Surgery, University of Aberdeen from 1882 to 1909) became the first Principal of the College, which accepted women students only. Teaching at the College focused on theoretical and practical aspects of physical education, and included human anatomy and physiology, Ling’s Swedish system of gymnastics, remedial massage and, perhaps surprisingly, singing and voice production. The first 11 students to complete the two-year diploma course did so in 1907.

College Hockey Team, 1905-1906. Part of the Records of Dunfermline College of Physical Education (EUA IN16)

Giving a toast to the College at a dinner following the opening ceremony, Alexander Ogston concluded with his vision of what it represented in terms of national achievement and improved human wellbeing:

Scotland does not stand where it did; where formerly it was covered with what were quaintly termed “foul moors,” it is now so altered that it presents in their stead scenes of charming beauty and fertility, or is filled with the evidence of man’s industry and genius. It is not too much to expect that the agencies now active in the amelioration of the physical condition of its people, among which we hope the Dunfermline College will play a great part, will result in a somewhat similar elevation of all its inhabitants, in the production of a higher, nobler, better race, moving forwards towards perfection.

The records of Dunfermline College of Physical Education are currently being catalogued and we look forward to sharing more stories from the archive soon!


  • Addresses delivered on the occasion of the inauguration of the Carnegie Dunfermline Trust College of Hygiene and Physical Training on the 4th October 1905 (Dunfermline: A. Romanes & Son, 1905)
  • Dr I.C. MacLean, The History of Dunfermline College of Physical Education (Edinburgh: Dunfermline College of Physical Education, 1976)

Clare Button
Project Archivist

A Prized Collection

We were recently rather excited to receive a significant accrual to an existing donation of records from Scottish Gymnastics. This includes over 100 books (some of them rare and inscribed), papers and photographs and an extensive collection of shields, trophies, medals, and other artefacts. A donation of objects like these in such a quantity is quite unusual for us and they make up by far the largest part of the Scottish Gymnastics archive. However the proportion of objects to paper records makes complete sense in the context of the organisation’s chief focus on local, national and international competitions.

The collection comprises a real mix of objects, including medals, shields, trophies and plaques, dating from the 1890s (when the organisation was new) right up to 2017. As well as objects which were given as awards, the collection also includes commemorative objects, particularly glassware, which were given to Scottish Gymnastics to mark their participation in particular events over the years.

Probably the most historically notable item in the collection is the Scottish Shield, an impressively decorated three-foot wide object bearing the Scottish Gymnastics logo and the names of the previous winners (picture below):

The shield was awarded as part of an annual competition between Scottish gymnastics clubs. The first winners, in 1890, were the Aberdeen Gymnastic and Rowing Club (the oldest of the Scottish gymnastics clubs). Jim Prestidge’s invaluable book The History of British Gymnastics also features this photograph of the shield in 1902, when it was won by the Dundee Gymnastic and Athletic Club (shield is on the far left).

At the time Prestidge was writing (1988), the Scottish Shield was still being awarded, and Prestidge states that it “is the longest serving Team Shield still in service”. It must certainly be one of the oldest gymnastics awards in Scotland, predating the famous Adams Shield (also featured in the above photograph, on the right) by nine years. We would like to find out more about the history of the Scottish Shield, so please do let us know if you have any information to share!

Artefacts like these form an important part of sporting heritage collections, but because of their unwieldy nature, they are often at risk of being discarded or forgotten, with institutions sometimes being reluctant to take them in. So it’s fantastic to now have this very tangible – and often downright beautiful – part of gymnastics history here at the Centre for Research Collections. The items are a valuable resource for understanding the material culture of gymnastics as well as giving precise information about individual, team and club achievements over time. It would be great to now see researchers begin to use this collection to its full potential.

The Scottish Gymnastics archives catalogue is currently being updated to include these new items. Once this is complete, the catalogue will be viewable here:

Clare Button
Project Archivist


Prestidge, Jim, The History of British Gymnastics (British Amateur Gymnastics Association, 1988)

Margaret Morris and “La Divine” Suzanne Lenglen (1899-1938)

Suzanne Lenglen and Margaret Morris demonstrating a tennis exercise, c.1937. Margaret Morris Collection, Fergusson Gallery, Perth

Today marks the birthday of the tennis star Suzanne Lenglen, who was born in Paris in 1899. Regarded by some as the greatest female tennis player in history, Lenglen won 31 Championship titles between 1914 and 1926. She was also one of the first female international sports personalities and was nicknamed “La Divine” (The Goddess) by the French press. As a child however, she suffered numerous health problems including chronic asthma. Her father Charles suggested that it would be good for her to build up her strength by playing tennis and developed various exercises for her. Only four years later she was competing in the final of the 1914 French Championships, aged only 14.

Charles Lenglen’s approach would have found favour with Margaret Morris, who believed strongly that movement and exercise could be applied to improve the health, wellbeing and physical strength of anyone and everyone. She gave the first demonstration of her Margaret Morris Movement technique to doctors in 1925 and went on to train in Physiotherapy at St Thomas’s Hospital, London, passing with distinction in 1930.

Morris began to notice the striking similarity between the physical positions in her own exercises and those which occur in sports such as football, cricket and tennis. She demonstrated that all athletic movements were based on the opposition of one group of muscles to another. This idea of ‘opposition’ was fundamental to Morris’s technique – and indeed the development of free dance as a whole – and was heavily influenced by the teachings of Raymond Duncan (brother of the famous dancer Isadora) on the ‘Greek positions’ based on the Parthenon sculptures.

Dancer Jack Skinner and cricketer Donald Bradman. Illustrations from the prospectus of the Basic Physical Training Association, 1938. Margaret Morris Collection, Fergusson Gallery, Perth

Morris began to illustrate her demonstrations of opposition exercises with photographs of athletes, including Suzanne Lenglen. At one lecture in Paris, Lenglen, who by now had retired and was running a tennis school in the city, happened to be in the audience. Realising the potential for Morris’s exercises to be specially adapted for tennis and used as basic preparatory training, Lenglen invited Morris to collaborate with her. The pair developed exercises over a course of visits to Lenglen’s flat in Passy, where Morris was introduced to some of her tennis star friends.

Before leaving Paris, Morris taught the exercises to one of her teachers who worked each day at Lenglen’s school. It became compulsory for all of her pupils to learn the strokes by doing the exercises before they were allowed to pick up a tennis racket, as well as practicing the special breathing exercises developed by Morris. Lenglen apparently declared that results were obtained much faster and that the pupils had more endurance. Hearing of this, some of her tennis star friends, including “Bunny” Austin, began private lessons with Morris to improve their own style and technique.

Encouraged by this, Lenglen and Morris approached Heinemann’s to publish their exercises in book form and Tennis By Simple Exercises first appeared in 1937. It went into two editions and was later published in France under the title Initiation au Tennis. The Margaret Morris archive at the Fergusson Gallery in Perth has a number of first editions of the book, including Morris’s personal copy, as well as draft manuscripts, notes and correspondence between Morris and Lenglen.

‘Tennis By Simple Exercises’, Suzanne Lenglen and Margaret Morris (Heinemann, 1937), 1st edition. Margaret Morris Collection, Fergusson Gallery, Perth

‘Tennis By Simple Exercises’, Suzanne Lenglen and Margaret Morris (Heinemann, 1937), 2nd edition. Margaret Morris Collection, Fergusson Gallery, Perth












Morris later recalled being invited with Lenglen to a tennis party given by the politician and tennis player Domini, Lady Crosfield, and asked to demonstrate the exercises for the guests. When they had finished, Morris was surrounded by an admiring crowd clamouring “Now, of course, we are just longing to see you play!” Embarrassed, Morris was obliged to reply “But I don’t!” and had to explain to a sea of astonished faces that her varied and busy career gave her little opportunity to play any games herself!

Sadly, Suzanne Lenglen was diagnosed with leukemia in June 1938 and died only a month later, aged just 39. Reminiscing about their collaboration, Morris recalled:

She was a dynamic personality, stimulating to work with, and I never saw a sign of the violent temper she was reputed to possess.


Suzanne Lenglen and Margaret Morris demonstrating a tennis exercise, c.1937. Margaret Morris Collection, Fergusson Gallery, Perth


Margaret Morris, My Life in Movement (London: Peter Owen Limited, 1969)

“Suzanne Lenglen”, Wikipedia,, accessed 17 May 2018.

Clare Button
Project Archivist

Scottish Gymnastics collection catalogued

Coll-1842/6/1: Photograph of five male boxers [?] standing in a line, c.1950s

As well as cataloguing the Margaret Morris collection in Perth, I have also been working with the records of Scottish Gymnastics, which were donated to the University of Edinburgh last autumn. At 14 boxes, the collection is compact but extremely varied, giving a rich flavour of the organisation’s long history.

The Scottish Amateur Association of Gymnastics, Wrestling and Boxing, as it was originally named, was founded on 24 May 1890 by representatives of five Scottish gymnastics and athletic clubs. Prior to this, gymnastics in Scotland had close links with the British military, specifically the Army Physical Training Corps.

However, over the decades, Scottish Gymnastics increasingly broadened its remit to encompass the wider health and wellbeing applications of human movement. It has since gone on to compete successfully in many international competitions and to widen participation in gymnastics to school and pre-school children and people with disabilities.

The records catalogued include early minutes, a collection of publications, including some very early books on gymnastics and physical culture, photographs, audiovisual material, awards and medals. They are a fantastic resource for historians of sport and physical culture, revealing a century of shifting attitudes towards gender, fitness, exercise and education.

Coll-1842/5/6: ‘Pyramids for Strong Men Gymnasts &c’ by F.J. Harvey (Exeter, The Physical Training Publishing Company, 1907); Coll-1842/5/1: Coll-1842/5/3: ‘Manual of Physical Culture and System of Musical Drill’ by George Cruden (Aberdeen: Alexander Murray, 10th edition, 1902); ‘Gymnastics’ by A.F. Jenkin (London: George Bell and Sons, 1890).

We are also working with Scottish Gymnastics to encourage members to donate material, and are planning to host an event for members to view the collection and to help us identify some photographic material.

Parts of this collection will also receive conservation treatment and be selected for digitisation.

Coll-1842/8/6: Scottish Amateur Gymnastics Association Honorary Life Member pendant in presentation box, undated

The records of Scottish Gymnastics can be consulted at the Centre for Research Collections, University of Edinburgh Main Library. The catalogue can be viewed here:

I am now looking forward to beginning work on the records of Dunfermline College of Physical Education, and continuing to catalogue the Margaret Morris collection.

Clare Button
Project Archivist


Bombs, Bins and Burglary: The Miraculous Survival of the Margaret Morris Collection

The Fergusson Gallery, Perth.

A fortnight ago I paid my first visit to the Fergusson Gallery, Perth, to begin assessing and listing the Margaret Morris Collection which is housed there. This is the first step towards what will eventually be full cataloguing, rehousing and conserving of the archival collection, and I enjoyed my introduction to the remarkable life of movement and dance pioneer Margaret Morris (1891-1980) and, what’s more, the astonishing story of her archive.

The collection encompasses an array of materials relating to Morris’ life and career as well as the organisation she established, Margaret Morris Movement (which expanded to become the International Association of Margaret Morris Movement). Things get a bit complicated – not to mention dramatic – once we start looking at the variety of people who have added to this collection over the years, and ensured its survival against the odds.

Margaret Morris, anatomical drawing of a hand. Courtesy of Culture Perth and Kinross.

Alhambra Theatre programme, 1928. Courtesy of Culture Perth and Kinross.

Margaret Morris reciting aged five, c.1904. Courtesy of Culture Perth and Kinross.

The earliest parts of the collection were amassed by Victoria Bright Morris, Margaret’s mother. She collected photographs, posters and promotional material relating to her daughter’s performing career (which began aged three, when Margaret would recite poetry and stories in both English and French). Margaret herself kept a lot of material relating to her life and work: programmes, brochures and posters from her famous summer schools, demonstrations and performances; lecture notes and anatomical drawings from her training as a physiotherapist, and voluminous correspondence with her mother, her husband the artist J.D. Fergusson and friends and associates, including numerous literary, musical and theatrical names. The archive also includes items originally created by or belonging to Margaret’s students and colleagues. One of them, Margaret’s personal secretary, dresser and costume maker, Isabel Jeayes, who stored the archive in her London home during the Second World War (when Margaret and Fergusson relocated to Glasgow). Here the first of many disasters struck the collection when it was damaged during the Blitz.

What survived the bombing was moved up to Glasgow, partly to Margaret’s home and partly to the premises of her Margaret Morris School. When J.D. Fergusson died in 1961, Margaret decided to close the School and sell the building. One of her former students, the dancer Jim Hastie, received an urgent call to tell him that the archive was being rapidly disposed of in three skips outside the building. Jim travelled by bus overnight from London and spent two days rescuing as much material as he could before the refuse collectors arrived, storing the surviving material at Margaret’s home.

Margaret Morris Method Canada newsletter, winter 1986. Courtesy of Culture Perth and Kinross.

More upheaval followed during the 1970s when Margaret relocated back to the south of England. Hastie took the archive in to his own home in Glasgow before moving it to the Head Office of Margaret Morris Movement (also in Glasgow) following Margaret’s death in 1980. Catastrophe struck when burglars entered the building and set it on fire. The surviving items were moved to another part of the building only to be damaged again (mainly by water this time) when the adjoining hotel was also set on fire. At this point, Hastie took the archive back into his home before donating it to Perth and Kinross Council (now Culture Perth and Kinross) in 2010. Jim, who became Life President and Artistic Director of the International Association of Margaret Morris Movement, added many items to the collection relating to his own career as well as the operation of the organisation.

The archive is now housed in a building dedicated to the work of J.D. Fergusson and Margaret Morris, and forms part of a wider set of collections of artwork, costumes, sculpture and furniture (as well as Fergusson’s own archive). My first tasks are to begin to untangle the complicated provenance of Morris’ archive and identify those items requiring urgent conservation treatment. Thanks to Wellcome Trust funding, Margaret Morris’ archive will be made fully accessible for many decades to come, but it is thanks to all those who have gone before that it is here today at all.

Clare Button
Project Archivist

With grateful acknowledgement to Jim Hastie’s own reminiscences, ‘The Story of the Margaret Morris Archive.’


Introducing ‘Body Language’

‘Body Language: movement, dance and physical education in Scotland, 1890-1990’ is a new Wellcome Trust Research Resources-funded project between Edinburgh University Library Special Collections and the Fergusson Gallery, Perth  with the support of Moray House School of Education, Margaret Morris Movement International and Scottish Gymnastics. I am the archivist on this project and over the next two years I will be cataloguing, preserving and making available these three significant collections relating to movement, dance, physical education and gymnastics in Scotland:

  • The archives of Margaret Morris Movement International

Margaret Morris (1891-1980) established her own system for dance training, Margaret Morris Movement, which focuses on breathing techniques, posture and strength training with co-ordinated movements. Margaret Morris Movement International works today with mentally and physically disabled persons using Morris’s systems and techniques. The archives contain costume designs, music scores, choreography notes, scripts, sketchbooks, diaries, teaching and publicity materials, photographs and around 8,000 items of correspondence from individuals including Edward Elgar, Stanley Baldwin and Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

  • The records of Dunfermline College of Physical Education

Dunfermline College of Physical Education, founded in 1905, was one of the first training colleges for women students of physical education and had an important influence on developing the role of movement and the body in educational practice. The records comprise governance, staff and student records, teaching materials, artefacts
including costumes and uniforms, photographs, and a collection of performance and
educational films. It also incorporates the records of DCPE’s Old Student Association.

  • The archives of Scottish Gymnastics

Scottish Gymnastics was founded in 1890 as a voluntary organisation representing a number of Scottish gymnastic and athletic clubs. Broadening its initial focus from military fitness to general health and wellbeing, it was significant for promoting and supporting gymnastics in Scotland and abroad. The archives contain minute books, correspondence, instructional material, photographs, rare books, journals and other printed material.

We are fortunate to have the support and collaboration of a number of academics on our Project Board who will be using the collections for research and raising awareness of this material to wider academic and public groups.

I’m looking forward to getting started working with these collections and sharing what I find in this blog!

Clare Button
Project Archivist