Abbye ‘Pudgy’ Stockton played a central role in popularizing physical culture and exercise for women in the central decades of the twentieth century. Famed for her hand balancing routine at Muscle Beach with her husband Les, Pudgy Stockton has been rightly credited by many as one of the leading proponents of female weightlifting and physical culture more generally. Aside from her hand balancing routines, which captured attention both inside and outside the weightlifting community, Pudgy’s greatest influence was undoubtedly her monthly ‘Barbelles’ column in Strength and Health magazine from 1944 to 1954.
Pudgy’s ‘Barbelles’ column was one of the first sustained efforts to create a women’s weightlifting community in the United States and it is no surprise that many later female weightlifters cited Pudgy as their inspiration and introduction into the Iron Game. Turning to the Stark’s collection, Pudgy’s papers, alongside her husband Les, help track the evolution of both a pioneering time in American life and the history of female physical culture more generally. The highlight of the collection is undoubtedly the couple’s correspondence with other members in the fitness industry which provide a fascinating insight into the couple’s own importance and their place in American fitness.