Pilates History Books Alamogordo NM
Cochiti Lake, NM
Chasing Joe Pilates
By Stacey Redfield
The life history of Joseph Pilates appears to be covered, to some extent, in just about every Pilates book, workshop, conference and training program.
The narrative that’s passed on about his life generally goes like this: He was born in Germany, and it is rumored that he was a sickly kid who became obsessed with developing his own physical strength. He first wife died in Germany when he was 30, and somehow he made his way to England—Joe stated that he was touring with a circus troupe. When WWI broke out, he was interned on Britain’s Isle of Man because of his German citizenship. It is a common belief in the Pilates community that the rehabilitative work he did with his fellow detainees became part of the foundation of what we know today as Pilates. (Unfortunately, records from the Isle of Man were destroyed in the war and I haven’t found any official account of his work there.) Pilates immigrated to the United States in 1926, and in doing so, made the acquaintance of Anna Clara Zuener, whom we all know as Clara, and with whom he remained until his death in 1967. After arriving in the States, he opened the New York City studio in which he taught for the duration of his life, though exactly when he opened it is unclear.
There is also plenty of lore about Joe Pilates. For instance, there are many stories about Joe’s love of beer, women and cigars. Though there’s reason to believe them, one might wonder, for example, just how far-fetched is the story of Joe running through the streets of New York in the middle of winter wearing just a pair of skimpy white trunks and his gym shoes?
Major facets of the life histories of Joe and Clara have yet to be uncovered. For instance, why exactly did Joe come to America? He came after WWI, and Germany was experiencing a severe economic depression and political turmoil, which could be reason enough. There are several additional answers to that question depending on what resources you consult. For example, one article published by People in 1959 (before it became a stand-alone magazine in the ‘70s) stated he came at the urging of famous boxing promoter and publisher Nat Fleischer. I question how true that is based on the evidence presented later in this article, however I do believe that Fleischer gave Joe his start in this country. Since the majority of newspaper and magazine articles on Joe’s studio that I’ve found were written in the 1950s, it leaves much speculation about the first 30 years of his career here.
There is even discrepancy in the story of how Joe and Clara actually met. I’ve heard two versions of the story: that they met on the boat to America and that they met on the boat from Ellis Island. The ride from Ellis Island is very short, so that would have been one heck of a romance!
PILATES HISTORICAL RESEARCH