MCNY Blog: New York Stories

Iconic photos of a changing city, and commentary on our Collections & Exhibitions from the crew at

Locker Room Grooming, 1904

In 1904, there was much rejoicing uptown over the opening of a women-only gym situated between Barnard College and Teachers College.  The New York Times noted that the men at Columbia’s gymnasium, who had been allowing the co-eds use of their facilities, would no longer have to put up with “hairpins, combs…and the dyestuffs” from women’s bathing suits clogging up their pool.

This state-of-the-art building featured bowling alleys, rowing machines, shower
baths, and “corrective exercise rooms” as illustrated in this completely candid image of students performing calisthenic and gymnastic feats:

Byron Company. Education, Gymnasium at Teachers' College, 1904. Museum of the City of New York.

But one of the more advanced features was discovered by our team of catalogers, when they came across the following image and tried to hypothesize about what activity the woman might be engaging in.  Was she communicating with a forbidden lover in the basement via air duct?

Byron Company. Teachers College, 1904. Museum of the City of New York.

A perusal of Gotham Comes of Age found a mention of a “much popular hair-drying room” installed at the gym, and the 1904 article in the New York Times proclaimed that “the feature in the new gymnasium upon which the girls are most profuse in their encomiums is the novel hair-drying room, located in the basement.”

According to the Times the steam and hot air pipes would raise the temperature in the room to 150 degrees, presumably producing an effect akin to trying to dry one’s hair in a sauna and a steam room at the same time.  The only other reference I could find to this sort of contraption was a 1915 installation at the women’s gymnasium at the University of Iowa, which used hot air circulated from the boiler room by electric fan.

We’d love to hear from any hairdo historians out there who have insight into these contraptions.

4 comments on “Locker Room Grooming, 1904

  1. Kathy Benson
    August 9, 2011

    What fun it was to read this! I will forward to my Barnard alum and hairdo enthusiast friends.

  2. burghlars
    August 9, 2011

    I am another Barnard alum (c/o 2009)! Thank you so much for posting this–it made my day. While at Barnard, I worked for the PE department as a Weight Room Supervisor (the current Barnard gym is located in the basement of Barnard Hall, and the only hair-drying implements are some hand dryers with nozzles that can be swiveled upwards). I also started a newsletter/magazine called Barbelle, that covered issues of fitness, health, and wellness relevant to college-age women. I only wish I had known about this hair-drying room back then, as I think it would have made a terrific feature for the magazine! Thank you again–I love this blog!

  3. Jina
    April 6, 2014

    Many thanks for this web page, can blissfully declare we currently
    have a steam shower of our own and we think
    its great

  4. Pingback: Gymnasium at Teachers’ College, 1904 | Chick History

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This entry was posted on August 9, 2011 by in Digital Project and tagged , , , , , , .

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