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Physical education program records

Identifier: Y.USA.5


Records of the YMCA's Physical Department, Physical Education Committee, and other governing committees, as well as several of its prominent leaders in this field. Material includes minutes, correspondence, various physical education studies, publications, and convention materials. A significant portion of the collection consists of reports, pamphlets, and publications collected or published by the YMCA. These cover wide-ranging topics including training of physical education leaders, specific physical education programs and initiatives, tobacco and smoking, safety issues, and physical work with particular populations, as well as reports from various conferences and conventions. Extensive documentation from YMCA programs such as the Heroic Service Awards and the Leaders Club can be found, as well as material on the many different sports and athletic activities and competitions that the YMCA ran, including aerobics, aquatics badminton, baseball, basketball, boxing, fencing, gymnastics, handball, judo, softball, squash, volleyball, water polo, weightlifting, and wrestling. Material relating to the YMCA's relationship with the Olympic movement can also be found, including material from the United States and International Olympic Committees.

Of the many sporting activities taught in YMCAs, volleyball, basketball, and aquatics (including swimming, synchronized swimming, diving, water safety/lifesaving, and scuba and skin diving) are especially well-represented in the collection. In addition to material generated by the YMCA itself, records on volleyball include handbooks, official guides, and other material from the U. S. Volleyball Association.

Records of the Athletic League, formed by the YMCA in 1896 as the controlling body for inter-association athletic events and competitions include correspondence, minutes, and newsletters. Also in the collection are records of or concerning related organizations, including the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU), the Youth Basketball Association, the Conference for National Cooperation in Aquatics (CNCA), Physical Education Society, the National Heath Council, the National Recreation Association, and American Association for Health Physical Education and Recreation (AAHPER).


  • 1887-2011


Language of Materials


Use of Materials:

This collection is protected by the Copyright Law of the United States (Title 17, U.S. Code). It is the user's responsibility to verify copyright, ownership, and to obtain all the necessary permissions prior to the reproduction, publication, or other use of any portion of these materials.


Physical education as a means to separate young men from temptations to vice appears early in the history of the American YMCA. The earliest record of YMCA activity in this area dates back to 1856, when the Brooklyn YMCA appointed a committee to consider setting up a gymnasium. At the Montreal Convention of the Confederation of American YMCAs later that year, a committee was charged to report back as to "whether any means can be provided by YMCAs for the physical development and promotion of the health of their members -- by gymnasiums, baths, etc." Spurred on by increasing industrialization and immigration, the YMCA entered a period of rapid expansion during the late 1860s and 1870s. With the influx of young men into the cities came an inevitable increase in delinquency and crime. As the YMCA sought new ways to reach these youths, physical work increasingly proved an effective means of fulfilling the movement's goal to provide a wholesome leisure-time environment for young men.

The first YMCA gymnasiums were informal facilities, often located in church basements or lecture halls. The first purpose-built facilities appeared in 1869, when gymnasiums were included in new YMCA buildings in San Francisco, Washington D. C., and New York City. By the end of the century, at least 450 YMCA buildings featured gyms. Those that did not add them, noted Association secretary Sherwood Eddy, gradually "disappeared."

Among the earliest leaders in the movement to integrate physical education into the YMCA's movement was Robert J. McBurney (1837-1898), who in 1862 assumed the secretaryship of the New York YMCA. McBurney equipped the Association's new Twenty-Third Street YMCA building with one of the earliest, most well-equipped gyms. An even greater contribution to the cause was his "Four-Fold Plan," "the first clear rationale form combining athletics with evangelism. Proposed around 1869, it advocated ministry to all four aspects of a young man's life: bodily, social, spiritual, and intellectual" (Putney, 69).

The term "body building" was coined by Robert J. Roberts, a devout Baptist and former mechanic who worked as a gymnastic superintendent for the Boston YMCA during the 1870s. He went on to start the Leaders Corps in 1884 to select and train physical education instructors and was considered the first Christian physical director in the YMCA movement. In 1887, Roberts joined the department of physical education, organized earlier that year by Luther Gulick, the YMCA's first national physical education secretary, at the new YMCA International Training School (later known as Springfield College). It was Gulick who is credited with originating the YMCA's famous inverted red triangle symbolizing the unity of "body, mind, spirit." In 1891, this symbol was adopted as the YMCA's official seal. The year 1891 also marks the invention of basketball, the brainchild of James Naismith, a faculty member at Springfield, who was instructed by Gulick to come up with a game that would be "interesting, easy to learn, and easy to play indoors by artificial light" (Johnson, 87).

Volleyball, another YMCA innovation, was invented in 1895 by William Morgan of the Springfield (Mass.) YMCA. Patterned after an Indian game called minton and originally called "mintonette," volleyball was designed as somewhat less demanding alternative to basketball for middle-aged businessmen.

The YMCA also has a long-standing tradition in aquatics. The first YMCA pool was in Brooklyn, built in 1885. In 1909, by which time there were 293 YMCA swimming pools, the YMCA started a national campaign to teach swimming under the leadership of George H. Corson. In 1916, the Association Press published one of the first books on lifesaving by George E. Goss, a former physical secretary.

During World War I, the YMCA carried on a number of physical education programs for soldiers in the states and abroad. It also sponsored the Inter-Allied Games held in Paris in 1919 for Allied soldiers. With the departure of so many young men for service abroad, these years also saw a shift in YMCA constituency at home towards boys, middle-aged men and increasingly, women.

In the period since 1920 the YMCA has continued to support and improve its physical education mission with activities and programs for people of all ages and backgrounds. The YMCA pioneered the training and certification of fitness instructors and sponsored numerous competitive leagues for amateur athletes. YMCAs continued to be the launch pads for new sports and fitness activities, including racquetball, which was invented by YMCA volunteer Joe Sobek in 1950. Jazzercise made its debut at the McGaw YMCA in Evanston Illinois in 1969, and a year later inspired Jackie Sorenson to begin "dance exercise" classes at the Towson, Maryland YMCA, leading to the boom in "aerobics" in the United States and Canada. As of the beginning of the 21st century, YMCAs were collectively the largest provider and promoter of health and fitness programs in the country.

Historical information was compiled from: Discovery YMCA,Spring/Summer 2001; Elmer L. Johnson, The History of YMCA Physical Education(Chicago: Association Press, 1979); Clifford Putney, Muscular Christianity: Manhood and Sports in Protestant America, 1880-1920, (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard U Press, 2001).


80.6 Cubic Feet (117 boxes)


Records of the YMCA's Physical Department, Physical Education Committee, and other governing committees, as well as several of its prominent leaders in this field. Material includes minutes, correspondence, various physical education studies, publications, and convention materials, as well as program materials for various sports and fitness activities, especially scuba diving. Also included are records of related organizations, such as the Physical Education Society and the Athletic League.


This collection is largely unprocessed, but is organized into the following rough sections:

  1. General Files
  2. Marge Murphy Files
  3. Ed Griffin Files
  4. Harold Friermood Files
  5. YMCA Scuba Files

Related Materials

A collection of plaques, patches, and other realia related to the SCUBA program have been removed from the Physical Education Program Records collection and cataloged as part of the YMCA Archives Memorabilia Collection.

Processing Information:

Partially processed by: David Carmichael. Most of the collection is essentially unprocessed. Many folder titles do not accurately indicate their contents.

Catalog Record ID number: 4502596

An Inventory of Records
Finding aid prepared by David Carmichael; Lara Friedman-Shedlov.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
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Collecting Area Details

Contact The Kautz Family YMCA Archives Collecting Area