American Guts and Military Manhood

  • Ana Carden-Coyne


In the first third of the twentieth century, campaigns to remedy the digestive system preoccupied physical culturists in Europe and the United States. Concerns about the interior workings of the body had long been the preserve of health and fitness doyens, as well as those disposed to religion, temperance and muscular Christianity. It was in the First World War, however, that the abdomen seemed to face its most perilous test, as its meaningful status confirmed guts as the locus of masculinity. Military manhood encouraged a particular type of masculinity, one that required stronger than usual inner resolve. Inner resolve was seen as a particularly masculine trait that depended upon hardened and healthy stomachs. The state of men’s guts authenticated courage and discipline, which had distinct merits for the military machine. At this time, American Professor of Clinical Medicine Dr. John W. Wilce, coined the term “intestinal fortitude.” Tellingly, he was a sports coach at Ohio State University.l Earlier, the colloquial use of the term “guts” had referred to spirit, energy or force.2 Physical culture made use of this notion in a number of bodily and mental contexts. During wartime, however, fitness culture and medicine made important social and military alliances that brought into focus the masculinity of guts.


Male Body Military Training Civilian Life Masculine Trait American Soldier 
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© Christopher E. Forth and Ana Carden-Coyne 2005

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  • Ana Carden-Coyne

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