Abolitionist Frederick Douglass’ 12-Pound Dumbbells Are Still on Display

The civil rights activist's 12-pound dumbbells are at the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site in Washington, D.C.

Frederick Douglass is one of the USA’s most notable historical figures. He was born into slavery on an unknown day in 1818 on Holme Hill Farm in Talbot County, Maryland. According to Britannica, Douglass escaped slavery in 1838 “by dressing as a sailor” and traveling by train and steamboat to Wilmington, DE, Philadelphia, PA, and eventually New York City, NY. In 1845, Douglass published his first of three autobiographies, Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass, an American Slave.

During the Civil War, Douglass met with President Abraham Lincoln on three separate occasions to advocate “for inclusion of Black soldiers in the Union army…better pay and conditions for the soldiers.” Douglass became the first Black U.S. marshal in 1877, the U.S. minister resident and consul general to the Republic of Haiti, and recorder of deeds for the District of Columbia, where the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site (FDNHS) is in current day. On display at the FDHNS is the pair of 12-pound dumbbells he trained with:


According to an undated journal located in the Manuscript Department of the Moorland-Spingarn Research Center at Howard University in Washington, DC, Douglass’ grandaughter, Fredericka Sprague Perry, offered a glimpse into how her grandfather used those dumbbells to train:

“In the mornings before breakfast and in all degrees of temperature Douglass goes out on the porch or in the yard and swing the dumbbells both alternately then both at the same time, over, behind, and in front….”

Although Perry did not state which exercises Douglass explicitly performed, she offered enough information to give a decent idea. “Swing the dumbbells” could imply biceps curls, single-arm snatches, high-pulls, and various lateral raises. “Both at the same time, over, behind, and in front” could include bent-over dumbbell rows, overhead presses, dumbbell flyes, and rotational movements.

Featured image via Creative Commons/Frederick Douglass National Historic Site