Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 71.djvu/162

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.
156
POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY

THE RE-AWAKENING OF THE PHYSICAL CONSCIENCE
By RICHARD COLE NEWTON, M.D.

IN the recollection of men not yet old, such a thing as physical education was scarcely thought of in America. About fifty years ago Dr. Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote: "I am satisfied that such a set of black-coated, stiff-jointed, soft-muscled, paste-complexioned youth as we can boast in our Atlantic cities, never before sprang from loins of Anglo-Saxon lineage.... Anything is better than this white-blooded degeneration to which we all tend."

This condition of things had not, however, been reached without some concerted efforts to prevent it. In 1826 Harvard had started the first American college gymnasium in one of its dining-halls, and later in the same season, a number of gymnastic machines were put up on the playground known as the Delta. Gymnastic grounds were established at Yale the same year, and at Williams, Amherst and Brown in the year following. Competent instructors, however, were not to be had and no one knew how to produce them, so the movement was abandoned in five years time.

About thirty years afterward under the management of Professor Hitchcock, compulsory gymnastics were instituted at Amherst with very happy results. Within twenty years about fifty other institutions of learning had followed Amherst's lead; and now at Yale, Columbia, Princeton, Oberlin, the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Wisconsin gymnastic exercises are compulsory for all students for at least a part of the college course. The excellent results of the prescribed drills and exercises at Annapolis and West Point have, no doubt, contributed to the growing conviction that proper bodily development should be a part of every educational system. The students in many schools, as we shall see later, have taken their own physical education in hand. The present passion for athletic sports seems wellnigh universal and has gained such headway that it is evident that it must be taken very seriously. Over $1,000,000 are annually spent on college athletics in the United States, an increase of five-fold in the past ten or twelve years, and some young men, at least, unquestionably go to college for the specific purpose of playing upon the university teams. The stroke oar of the university crew, is by many, perhaps a majority, of his classmates held in higher honor than the valedictorian. Even as some of the youth of Hellas preferred the laurel crown, won in