When the State Normal and Industrial School (now UNCG) first opened its doors in the fall of 1892, the Department of Physiology and Physical Culture was in place. Its purpose was to educate the students in the care and training of their bodies and to encourage health and wellness. The program included gymnastics and calisthenics to promote strength and improve the posture of the students. Exercise classes were held in the school’s first gymnasium, located in the northeast section of the Main Building (now the Foust Building), which was equipped with weights, bars, and exercise machines. Training included increasingly difficult exercises meant to develop the body and create strong, graceful, and dignified young women. Miss Maude Broadaway was the director of the gymnasium and led the exercises that were designed to be easily translated into the classroom, as many of the State Normal students were studying to become teachers.
Miriam Bitting was both the resident college physician and the head of the department. She taught a class on physiology and made morning and evening rounds of her students, offering suggestions regarding room ventilation, hygiene, and clothing. Dr. Bitting was very progressive in thought and encouraged the girls to reject their corsets for better movement and general health – giving the State Normal girls the reputation for a good postures and large waists.
When Dr. Bitting left the following year to get married, she was replaced by Dr. Anna Gove. Dr. Gove was a graduate of the Woman’s Medial College of New York Infirmary and had also studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It was Dr. Gove who began the “walking period” or “exercise period” that required each girl to spend at least an hour per day participating in outdoor activities, which could include walking or games. In 1900, the gymnasium in the Main Building was converted to a library and this daily exercise period would become even more important. The campus Athletic Association was founded the same year.
During the 1907/1908 academic year, the Department of Physiology and Physical Culture changed its name to the Department of Physical Training, remaining within the Hygiene Department and retaining Dr. Gove at its head. Miss Ruena West, specially trained in physical education, was also hired to serve as physical director. The program concentrated on exercise regimens tailored to the needs of the individual, and also included sports such as basketball and tennis. An exercise room was incorporated into Spencer Dormitory, which could be used throughout the seasons. Field Hockey was added a few years later and a large area was designated across from Spencer Dormitory for an athletic field. Popular courses such as folk dancing and rhythmic dancing were added in the 1911/1912 academic year, but the program also continued to focus on physical evaluation, drills, and indoor and outdoor games. In 1917, the department officially became the Department of Physical Education.
Article by Kathelene McCarty Smith