Mrs Mary Bagot Stack founded the League in London in 1930 and the popularity of her rhythmical exercises quickly spread throughout England, and later throughout the rest of the United Kingdom and to the Commonwealth countries.
In the 1930’s Millicent Ward trained as a Health and Beauty teacher under Mrs Mary Bagot Stack, and for a while taught in England. In 1937 Millicent and her family emigrated to New Zealand. Soon she opened classes in Auckland, and these were so popular with young businesswomen she realised the need to expand. In order to do this she began training more teachers who opened centres in many parts of New Zealand.
An extract from a letter dated 27 March 2007 from Mrs Millicent Ward James.
“Thank you for inviting me to your 70th anniversary celebration. I am sorry I cannot be with you at this time – I have just had my 90th birthday and have some family here and am unable to attend this marvellous milestone.
I remember those memorable days, the first days in 1937 – the first meeting that we had in the Auckland Town Hall opened by the then Mayor of Auckland – I can’t remember his name – when we put on a demonstration for over 2 hours – it was sold out – I think the tickets were half a crown.
Then it was called the Women’s League of Health and Beauty. After the opening large big businesses in Auckland like Milne and Choyce, and Smith & Caughey invited me to talk to their women employees – the idea was to get as many women as possible interested. I think we had about 3000 members eventually in Auckland. Later I started to train teachers as other smaller towns wanted branches – Wanganui branch had Wynn Newsome – I remember her well, and some time later my sister Caroline Ward started a branch in Wellington.
The League was amazing as it was the first of its kind – a movement with music. Our headquarters were 24 Customs Street East – in a hall – I remember the owner who had the floor specially polished for us. From there I ran classes almost every night, with a pianist – another sister Phyllis, who was a musician. We wore white tops and short black shorts and I had the badges made in Sydney.”
With the outbreak of World War II many classes were forced to close, but a few kept going and some members formed a concert party to help entertain the troops.
In 1956 to help rebuild the Women’s League of Health and Beauty (as it was still called), Kay Rhodes – nee Hudson – came out from the UK and began to re-open centres. Kay also introduced into New Zealand the Medau system of full body movement which included club swings.