Sophie Barry ’20

“‘Make America Fit Again!’: Superman #170 and the Rise of Youth Fitness Culture in Cold War America, 1953-1964”

My senior thesis delved into the intersection of two of my favorite passions: fitness and superheroes. How are these two linked? Well, it turns out when President Eisenhower created the President’s Council for Youth Fitness in 1956, it completely changed the way Americans viewed fitness in their daily lives. White male youth, in particular, became subject to numerous advertisements promoting fitness.

My thesis is separated into three chapters, with the first two looking at how Eisenhower and Kennedy approached the politicizing of fitness and how they applied their points of view on generational heroism to fitness programs. The final chapter is a close-analysis of Superman #170, which was commissioned by JFK. This issue follows Superman as he encourages white male youth to abide by the government fitness programs through somewhat strange measures. The main argument I weaved throughout all three chapters is the idea of the double entendre of fitness. By that I mean the idea of fitness as a physicality and the question of “who truly fits the term ‘American?’”

Because my thesis encompassed materials and a time period that excited me, I learned so much about this era and how fitness culture was seeded in the Cold War. I had the lovely support of my advisor, Tim McCarthy, along with many members of the Hist & Lit department. Further, I went to both the JFK Library and the Eisenhower Library to look at materials firsthand.

Published by Hist & Lit

Committee on Degrees in History & Literature at Harvard University

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