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In the early 1900’s changed conditions of living brought about by increasing urbanization forced upon the community a realization of its responsibilities in regard to communicable and organic disease, delinquency and crime, and personal maladjustment. As a result schools were called upon to widen their programs.

School health programs emphasized healthful school environment, and a school health service provided thorough physical examinations and also assisted the child in removing factors that were retarding his health and his academic progress. Knowledge and habits of healthful living were taught. School administrators became aware of the educational contribution offered by athletics. More emphasis was placed upon physical education and play programs. Physical development, social adjustment, and educational use of leisure time were stressed. Community recreation was recognized as a school responsibility, school playgrounds were opened to children in the summer, and gymnasiums were used as evening social centers.

The growing public awareness of these enlarged community functions of the school found expression in laws requiring the teaching of hygiene, particularly in respect to communicable disease; in resolutions urging the use of school buildings as social centers; and in Michigan by legal enactments to establish the teaching of physical education as a school subject. A law passed in 1911 made the teaching of physical education mandatory in communities with populations of 10,000. Another passed in 1919, stimulated by the revelations of the war draft statistics, required such teaching in communities of 3,000. At this time twenty-eight states had such laws.

New courses in physical education and school health were added as a result of a report of the National Education Association published in 1918, which listed standards that came to be known as the seven cardinal principles of education.

The four-year course in physical education, hygiene, and athletics was established at the University of Michigan in 1921 as a result of this movement. The various teacher-training schools in the state were supplying teachers of physical education before 1919, but not in the numbers needed after the legislative enactment of that year went into effect.

In 1920 the Department of Education of the University considered offering hygiene and physical education courses in the summer session. Charles S. Berry (Hiram ‘03, Ph.D. Harvard ‘07) had given a course in school hygiene during the regular school year in 1908. Floyd Rowe, the state director of physical education, in the summer of 1921 gave two courses, one in “School and Personal Hygiene,” and the other in “Administration of Physical Education.” In June, 1921, the Regents directed:

Under the guidance and direction of the Board of Regents, acting through the Dean of the School of Education, he [the newly appointed Director of Intercollegiate Athletics] shall be likewise chargeable with the duty of establishing, conducting, or supervising educational courses in the training of coaches, and playground instructors…

A resolution was passed by the School of Education in 1921 endorsing the plan of providing a four-year curriculum for the training of athletic coaches and playground supervisors. A committee consisting of Professors Charles S. Berry, Guy M. Whipple, and George E. Myers, with Fielding H. Yost (LL.B West Virginia ‘97, LL.D. Marshall College ‘28), Director of Intercollegiate Athletics, was appointed to prepare a curriculum. The department was enlarged to include hygiene, and the co-operation of Dr. John Sundwall, Director of Physical Welfare, was enlisted. The combined course in physical education, hygiene, and athletics was introduced in the fall of 1921. The required scientific and laboratory work was given in other colleges and schools of the University. Elective courses were made available in other departments.

The course in 1921 required 120 hours and 120 honor points for graduation. In 1927 the requirement was raised to 124 hours and 25 per cent more honor points than hours of credit. The curriculum was so constructed that a broad general education was combined with specialized training. Approximately thirty-two hours were required in the field of the laboratory sciences such as biology, chemistry, anatomy, kinesiology, and physical reconstruction, forty hours of work in general educational subjects, twenty-four hours in the Theory and Practice of Physical Education, including gymnastic, corrective, athletic, and recreational activities. Six hours were devoted to directed teaching in the junior and senior years. Students specializing in the course had opportunity to serve as instructors in gymnasium classes, and to act as officials and organizers of intramural teams. Twenty-four hours were available for electives.

One interesting phase of the new program was the summer “coaching school” inaugurated in the summer of 1922, which attracted many students who were not primarily interested in obtaining a degree, but who wished to obtain practical information and training from specialists in their respective fields. The University was fortunate in having a well-trained staff and unsurpassed facilities in the way of athletic fields, tennis courts, gymnasiums, sports buildings, field houses, and golf course. Its prestige in athletics also attracted students to the summer course. The need for this type of instruction was acute, since many teachers with little preparation in physical education were being drafted to fill the numerous positions that were available as a result of the compulsory law. Courses were offered in the coaching of the various school sports such as football, basketball, baseball, and track, in playground, intramural, and scouting activities, in organization and administration of athletics, in graded gymnasium programs, and in athletic training and conditioning.

The first coaching school attracted seventy-five students, though no credit was being given for the work. In the next year, when credit was offered, the enrollment more than doubled, and students from twenty-eight states were registered. This enrollment was maintained for about five years, but when teacher-training schools began to offer four years of instruction in physical education the demand for this unique type of summer school work ceased.

A later development in the field was the organization of scientific and professional courses carrying graduate credit. The demand for this training increased as the various programs in health, physical education, athletics, and community recreation became co-ordinated under unified administrations. Graduate work has allowed opportunity for specialization and has also integrated the work in health, physical education, athletics, and recreation. The graduate curriculum in physical education leading to a master’s degree was set up during the summer session of 1931. Three different programs were established to meet the varying interests of graduate students: administration of physical education, supervision, and teaching. The following year a fourth program, health education, was organized in co-operation with the Division of Hygiene and Public Health. In 1936-37 there were five different programs, the four mentioned and one in leisure time. These were established according to the general policy of the School of Education in regard to the number of required cognate and elective subjects. Twenty-four hours of credit and a thesis were required for the master’s degree. The degree could be either a master of arts or a master of science in education. The graduate curriculums were the same for both men and women. The number of master’s degrees granted steadily increased. Between July, 1939, and June 30, 1940, thirty-two such degrees were awarded. The curriculum for the doctor’s degree was established in 1938, and the first two degrees were granted in 1940.

The Department of Physical Education for Women introduced two short-term institutes before the opening of the regular summer session in 1932. These institutes were each of one week’s duration and gave intensive instruction in such sports as tennis, swimming, golf, hockey, archery, the dance, and riding. No credit was given, the object being primarily to give assistance to teachers who wished to increase their own knowledge and proficiency in motor skills.

Professors Fielding H. Yost, John Sundwall, and Warren Forsythe, George A. May, and Elmer D. Mitchell, of the Men’s Physical Education and Intramural Departments, assisted in the work of organization and teaching. Miss Marion Wood, of the Women’s Physical Education Department, and her assistants were active in the early development of the program. In 1923-24 Dr. Margaret Bell became Associate Professor of Women’s Physical Education in the Division of Hygiene and Physician in the University Health Service and since then has directed the work in teacher training. The activity courses for women were planned and conducted entirely by the Department of Physical Education for Women.

The co-ordination of the work of the various departments was entrusted to a chairman elected for a period of three years. By 1939 this office had been filled by the following: Allen S. Whitney (1922-27), John Sundwall (1927-30), James B. Edmonson (1930-36), and Elmer D. Mitchell (1936-39). In May, 1936, an executive committee of five members was formed to administer the department.

The unit in 1921 was called the “Department of Physical Education, Hygiene, and Athletics.” In 1923 this was changed to “Physical Education, Athletics, and School Health.” In 1932 the title “Physical Education and School Health” was adopted.

In 1937 the School of Education established minors in school health and physical education. These comprised eighteen hours of prescribed courses and provided for students in education not specifically enrolled in the course for teachers. With their establishment it was felt that the need of the smaller communities in teacher preparation would be met.

In addition to the preparation of teachers of school health, gymnasium classwork, athletic coaching, scouting, and playground activities, new courses were added to meet the increasing demands for trained camp counselors and leaders of social recreation. First-aid courses were early instituted, but the courses in safety education were not added until after the period covered by this account.

By 1939 the four-year course for men had graduated about two hundred and twenty students and the course for women about one hundred and sixty-five. Graduates have found positions in elementary schools, high schools, colleges, hospitals, and city recreation departments and industries.

Elmer D. Mitchell


Announcement, School of Education, Univ. Mich., 1921-40.

President’s Report, Univ. Mich., 1921-40.

Proceedings of the Board of Regents …, 1910-40.

The University of Michigan, an encyclopedic survey ... Wilfred B. Shaw, editor, Volume II, Part VI pp. 1092-1094.

History of the University of Michigan

Department of

Physical Education & School Health