The Perfect Woman / The Perfect Family

When Macfadden arrived in England in 1913, one of the first things he did to attract publicity was to arrange a contest to select "the most perfect specimen of English womanhood." One contestant in particular captivated his attention, and she was declared the unanimous winner. Her name was Mary Williamson. Macfadden married Mary just a couple months later. He was 45; she was 19.

The World's Healtiest Man and Woman
Mary was a champion swimmer and had a natural, wholesome, friendly appearance. Macfadden was partial to women with "some flesh on their bones," and Mary was the perfect example of what Macfadden believed was the ideal female form.

Never one to miss an opportunity for publicity, Macfadden toured the country with his new wife billing themselves as "the world's healthiest man and woman."

Macfadden's public performances were amazing. At one point he would begin doing deep knee bends at a rapid pace - and using only one leg too! He would then invite people from the audience (usually young men ready to show off for their girlfriends) to keep up with him. Macfadden would best all of them.

As the grande finale of their act, Mary would climb to the top of a nearly 7 feet high platform as Macfadden lay on his back directly underneath. Then after a drum roll, she would jump directly onto Macfadden's stomach and bound to the stage! It was a spectacular feat!

When the tour was concluded, they opened a health resort in Brighton. They were joined by a little, red-headed girl from America named Helen, whom they adopted. It is fairly certain that Bernarr was Helen's real father and her mother was a devoted employee.

Raising the Physical Culture Family
Within the next year, Byrnece was born and there began to be rumblings of war on the continent. In 1915, the new family arrived back in America to a triumphal reception. All previous accusations of immorality and obscenity made against Macfadden apparently had been forgotten. At first the Macfaddens lived on Long Island and then in 1920 moved to Nyack, New York.

Their home in Nyack from which Macfadden would walk barefoot into New York City (some 25 miles).
There was a waterfall on the property. Mrs. Macfadden called it the "palace of porches." Today the house is an apartment building.

Mary and Bernarr seemed to be very happy for most of the time they lived in Nyack. Physical fitness and sports were becoming more popular; society was changing, and his ideas were gaining wider acceptance; things were going well for them; the future looked bright.

By 1918, Mrs. Macfadden had given birth to four girls. Bernarr now had six daughters, and he very much wanted a son. Thus, he began to look for a natural way that he could predetermine the sex of a baby, and he found what he was looking for. The successful result was that three sons, Byron, Berwyn and Brewster, were born in 1922, 1923 and 1925. Tragically, Byron died in infancy. All the children, except for Helen, were given first names that began with the letter "B."

Macfadden promoted an image that his family was the perfect model of a physical culture family and that all was health and happiness in their home, because they followed his principles. However, from what we know today, that seems to be an exaggerated image.

Macfadden and five of his daughters doing an exercise program on the radio.

An ad from an issue of Physical Culture magazine promoting a national tour.
"Perhaps the most representative 'physical culture' family in the world."

Years later, Mary wrote a tell-all biography, "Dumbbells and Carrot Strips," in which she accused Macfadden of being overly strict and autocratic as a husband and father. However, the biography was written after their divorce - a time when Mary no longer agreed with her ex-husband's physical culture methods. Nevertheless, it was clearly not a happy time for the children.

Macfadden and his girls at Atlantic City

One year during December, four of the Macfadden daughters, clad in skimpy costumes (see photo below), danced in an outdoor Christmas program in Central Park. Macfadden publicized the fact that none of them even caught a cold, because they followed his physical culture methods. Macfadden who had founded the Polar Bear clubs, taught that cold temperatures were not the cause of illness. Mary accused Macfadden of using the children as "guinea pigs" for his theories.

The "Macfaddenettes"    He had statues made of himself and his children

Macfadden had his shortcomings - a fact that is all too obvious when it came to being a husband and father. The fact is, he was not really a family man - he was much too preoccupied with what he saw as his mission - to educate people about natural ways to obtain good health. He was totally dedicated to this effort. It seems accurate to say that his own rough childhood had hardened him emotionally.

Bernarr and Mary separated in 1932 and were divorced in 1946.

Helen, Braunda, Bernarr, Beulah, and Byrnece in 1938

Macfadden with children and grandchildren around 1950



Muscles, Sex, Money, & Fame

A spectacular pictorial biography of the amazing life of Bernarr Macfadden. With over 300 vintage photographs and illustrations. The most comprehensive collection of photos about Macafadden ever published in print!

Mighty Macfadden pictorial


Copyright Jim Bennett

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