Joseph Pilates and Herbert Hoover

A short time ago, I wrote a blog on Herbert Hoover as a paragon of aging.  Well into his 80s, Hoover was still writing books, giving speeches, and serving as elder statesman to the Republican Party.  This caught the attention of Hoover’s long-time friend Bernard Baruch, who wrote a magazine article about Hoover’s vitality and engagement in his golden years.

Evidently this article caught the eye of another paragon of aging, 75 year-old Joseph Pilates.  Pilates wrote a letter to Herbert Hoover in late 1958, soliciting Hoover’s support for Contrology, Pilates system of balancing the mind, body and spine through concentration, controlled breathing and focus.  Pilates wrote: ‘Help me to make America the healthiest country in the world… Give me an hour of your valuable time and I will convince you that Contrology can do more for world peace than anything else.’

Hoover was not convinced, but his curiosity was piqued.  He asked his friend Perrin Galpin to look into the matter-to see whether Pilates was on the level.  Galpin reviewed the Contrology materials and reported: ‘Pilates is a remarkable physical specimen.  His system generates optimism, will power and joy of living. It’s a physical education business with its own system of coordinated body-mind-spirit development.’  Ultimately Galpin advised Hoover not to meet with Pilates, sensing the whole enterprise was sketchy.

Galpin did not mention that Pilates’ system enjoyed some measure of renown in the world of New York dance.  George Balanchine and Martha Graham were both advocates, holding that it gave them and their dancers precise body awareness and control.  Hoover, at age 84, likely did not need such acute kinesthetic awareness.  He just needed to know when to sharpen his pencils and his mind while writing yet another book.

I came across this Hoover-Pilates correspondence while looking up a totally unrelated topic.  Exiled from the Library due to Covid restrictions, I cannot say whether there are Hoover links to other 1950s fitness icons like Jack LaLanne, Charles Atlas, Steve Reeves or Bernarr Macfadden.

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