The Encyclopedia Americana (1920)/Gymnastics, History of

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The Encyclopedia Americana
Gymnastics, History of
Edition of 1920. See also Gymnastics on Wikipedia, and the disclaimer.

GYMNASTICS, History of. The development of gymnastics began in an early period of Grecian and Roman history. Systematic exercise received the stamp of approbation from the most eminent educators of ancient times and has the endorsement of all teachers to-day. Such exercise has had its periods of decline in popularity, due to the development of professionalism, stimulated by the conferring of extravagant honors and rewards which caused the ranks of the athletes to be filled by a professional class of low extraction, who made their art a trade. But through these periods of decline there have been those who have kept in mind the true value and aim of regularly and systematically conducted exercises; and these advocates have outlived and lived down these evils. So that we find that the scientifically conducted gymnastics have never entirely lost their hold upon educators and those interested in the betterment of mankind.

Modern gymnastics differ considerably from the exercises of the ancients, which at first consisted of athletic feats performed by each individual according to his own notion, and were encouraged among the youth as combining amusement with exercise. They were at length reduced to a system which, in Greece, formed a prominent feature in the state regulations for education. In fact the period for gymnastics was equal to the time spent on art and music combined. Public games were consecrated to the gods and were conducted with the greatest ceremony. The earliest mention we can find of gymnastic sports is in Homer's ‘Iliad,’ Book II, and again in Book XXIII, when Achilles instituted games in honor of Patroclus and distributed prizes to the victors for boxing and wrestling. Plato tells us that just before the time of Hippocrates gymnastics were made a part of medical study, because they were suited to counteract the effects of indolence and luxurious feeding, and that at length they became a state matter reduced to a system and superintended by state officers. The first public gymnasia were built by the Lacedæmonians. These were imitated at Athens, where, in one called the Academy, Plato instructed his pupils, and in another, the Lyceum, Aristotle taught. These were imitated at Athens, where, in one called the Academy, Plato instructed his pupils, and in another, the Lyceum, Aristotle taught. These buildings were superintended by a chief officer. The athletics were in charge of a director, and medical officers were in attendance to prescribe the kind and extent of exercise. Baths were attached to the gymnasia, and a hot bath, followed by a cold plunge, was recommended. Plato and Aristotle considered that no republic could be deemed perfect in which gymnasia; as part of the national establishment, were neglected.

The Spartans were the most rigid in exacting for their youth a gymnastic training; even the girls were expected to be good gymnasts. The exercises for pupils in the gymnasia consisted of a sort of tumbling, war-dances, running — for both sexes — leaping, climbing ropes; of jumping or springing from the knees, with weights attached to the body, maintaining the equilibrium while jumping on slippery skins filled with wine; and of wrestling for the throw. Riding, driving, swimming, rowing and swinging supplemented the indoor work.

During the Middle Ages the knightly amusement of the tournament absorbed nearly every other sport except foot-racing and wrestling, so that gymnastics fell into disuse till Basedow (q.v.) in 1776, at his institution in Dessau, united bodily exercises with other instruction. This example was followed by Salzmann at his institute and, from this small commencement, the practice gradually extended. In the latter part of the 17th century gymnastics were extensively introduced into Prussian schools by Guts Muths, who wrote several works on the subject. In 1810 the system was still more widely spread by Jahn, who is regarded as the founder of the present Turnverein (q.v.). Prussia at that time was impatient under Napoleonic rule, and Jahn conceived the idea of bringing together the young men for the practice of gymnastic exercises, and, at the same time, indoctrinating them with patriotic sentiments which might be made available to expel the French from Germany. The Prussian government favored the plan and in 1811 a public gymnastic school, or Turnplatz, was opened at Berlin, and was quickly imitated all over the country. In 1813 the citizens were called to arms gainst the French and Jahn himself commanded a battalion of Lutzow's volunteers. When, however, there was no longer any reason to dread the French, the government of Prussia, regarding the meeting of patriotic young men as a means of spreading liberal ideas, closed the gymnastic schools and Jahn was imprisoned. In other countries, however, the system introduced by Jahn was eminently successful, especially in England, Switzerland, Portugal and Denmark. It was first introduced into female education under the name of calisthenics when systematic exercises were added to hoop-trundling, skipping-ropes, etc., and to riding, archery and other healthy outdoor exercises practised among young women.

The masculine sports of cricket, football, quoits, boxing, wrestling, leaping, foot-racing, etc., have been for centuries enjoyed by the boys of England in the playgrounds attached to the schools. In 1848 the political condition of Europe enabled the Turnverein to be reorganized and the German emigration to the United States has brought these institutions with it. The first society was formed in New York. The organization, as first established, was confined to the practice of bodily exersises, but soon assumed a higher scope. Libraries were collected, schools established, a newspaper (Turnzeitung) founded, and various arrangements were made for the diffusion of useful knowledge and for mental culture as well as physical training. Much credit must be 'ven to Ling for his efforts to develop educational gymnastics. He has many followers, and his publication on ‘Educational and Curative Gymnastics’ has much merit. Ling has been severely criticized by English writers for his claims to originality. They go so far as to say that he simply used the works of authors of his time and of an earlier period, and took his holus-bonus from Dr. Francis Fuller in the ‘Medicina Gymnastica.’ The first edition was published in 1728, and it ran through eight others. It is also claimed that he borrowed in its entirety, without acknowledgment, the work of one John Pough, ‘A Physiological, Theoretic and Practical Treatise on the Utility of the Science of Muscular Exercise for Restoring the Power of the Limbs,’ with such materials and German gymnastics as had previously found their way through Denmark and Sweden. Through the exertions of such men as Salzmann, Jahn and others, together with certain English authorities as Fuller, Pough, Croft, Clias, Thomas and John Graham, it was not difficult to establish a system. In fact Salzmann's gymnastics for youth needs only what Pough supplies to give all that Ling calls his system which is only adapted to beginners. The qualiw of the Ling exercises is stilted and there is little scope for variety. The fact is, the system sticks too closely to automatic movements, which undoubtedly produce precise and studied monotony in drill.

Turning now to the Dio Lewis period, we see that it marks an epoch in the introduction of an American system of physical training formed in a small measure upon the Swedish and largely upon the German system. This system incorporated free-arm exercises, the use of dumb-bells, clubs, rings, wands, together with what was then called the Pangymnastikon, but which was nothing more or less than a pair of flying rings equipped with a pair of detachable stirrups from which swinging, jumping and stretching exercises were performed. Dio Lewis' work took up the matter of the school-desk, criticized the faulty position of the ordinary desk and the poor schoolroom ventilation. In 1861 the Normal Institute for Physical Education was incorporated and located in Boston. Its directors inclnded many of the most distinguished educators of New England, and its departments of anatomy, physiology and hygiene were in charge of able teachers. Dr. Dio Lewis gave the work in gymnastics. The aim of the institute was and is to furnish competent advocates and teachers of physical training.

Next follows the work of Dr. Sargent, with his American system of gymnastics. Dr. Sargent was born in Maine. He was fond of all kinds of outdoor sports and physical exercise, and joined a gymnasium club while attending high school; but as he had to work out of school hours to support his family, he could only attend to his exercising at odd moments as time permitted. On one occasion he broke a piece of apparatus and was expelled from the club. Piqued and aroused, he improvised an apparatus of his own in a barn. Shortly afterward the club gave a display and, after the members had finished, Sargent and a friend came forward and easily surpassed the athletic feats performed by the others. This event is said to have been the direct cause that led Dudley Sargent to become an ardent physical educator. He was graduated from high school in 1867, was invited to become teacher of gymnastics in Bowdoin College in 1869, and entered the college as a freshman in the regular course and conducted the physical work. In an endeavor to arouse the faculty and the public to the necessity for physical training, he was successful to the extent that, in 1871, gymnastics became a part of the regular curriculum, and Mr. Sargent, though a student only 22 years of age, was placed at the head of the department, and filled the position with credit. About this time he brought out his system of chest-weights. In 1872 he accepted a position as director of the Yale College gymnasium, and for three years had charge of both Yale and Bowdoin, spending part time in each place. It was while at Yale that he fully develaped the “individual apparatus” for which he is so well known. At the solicitation of friends he went to New York and started a gymnasium on Fifth Avenue, which at once sprang into popularity. In 1879 he accepted the appointment of director of the Hemenway Gymnasium and assistant professor of physical training at Harvard University. This promotion of the department of physical training to a rank equal to the scholastic departments of the university was a great stride forward, and stamped the new system with the mark of public approval. To Dr. Sargent is the credit due for the invention of the chest-weight, the intercostal machine, quarter-circles, leg and finger machine, and other appliances to the number of 30 or more. He also elaborated a system of anthropometric measurements which enable an examiner to ascertain at once the physical condition of a student, and which guided a director in prescribing proper exercises for the development of deficient parts. Dr. Sargent believes in special work for individuals, and will not allow a man or woman to go into the gymnasium and take the drills and work with the apparatus indiscriminately. Health, harmony and symmetry are the results aimed at.

About the same time, physical training was taken up by and introduced into the Young Men's Christian Association, whose local gymnasia have done much to give the work a moral tone. We owe a great deal to such men as R. J. Roberts of Boston, whose name has been associated with the advancement of physical education since 1875, and whose dumb-bell drill and book of exercises has long been a standard in the association's work. The organization of the physical work under the auspices of the Young Men's Christian Associations has been practically responsible for the systematization of the American system of gymnastics, and for the establishment of a universal nomenclature of gymnastics. Among those who have done most for physical training along educational lines, may be mentioned Dr. Hartwell of Boston, Dr. Gulick of New York and Dr. Seaver of Yale.

To-day, practically, all private schools have a weli-equipped gymnasium under the direction of a man who has had special training in the application of exercise, the theory and practice of gymnastics, and who is, in many cases, a medical graduate. Systematic progressive courses of work are conducted, which aim to develop and strengthen, to give co-ordination and grace, and to make the individual self-reliant and resourceful. The equipment required to obtain this result is necessarily extensive, consisting of a gymnasium, say 50 × 100 feet, with clear floor space, high-vaulted roof, a fine system of ventilation, and with every variety of apparatus which the ingenuity of the specialists, and the energy and resourcefulness of the manufacturers, can provide. The equipment consists of light apparatus — dumb-bells, Indian clubs, bar-bells, wands; heavy apparatus — German horse, parallel bars (suspended and floor), horizontal bars (high and low), buck, flying rings, traveling rings, horizontal and vertical ladder, climbing ropes, rope ladders, spring-hoards, beat-boards, floor-mats, wrestling and tumbling mats, Swedish stahl bars, booms, serpentine ladder and balance-beams; as well as special apparatus — chest-weights, intercostals, quarter-circle, chest-expander, traveling parallels, wrist-machine, long inclined plane, sculling-machine, paddling-machine, leg-machine, neck-machine, bicycle-trainer and so on through an almost endless variety. No plant is complete without its swimming-tank, varying in size from 15 × 45 up; its shower-baths, needle-baths, tub-baths; and some have steam-rooms and massage-tables. An indoor running track is an almost indispensable adjunct to all well-equipped gymnasia; and there should also be the equipment for indoor athletics during the winter months. Provision for indoor games is also essential — basket-ball, baseball and ring-hockey. Each school has adjacent athletic grounds with tennis-courts, quarter-mile track, football and baseball fields and golf course. See Physical Training.

The college physical departments surpass those of the preparatory schools only in site and extent of equipment. Harvard University probably excels all others in point of variety of equipment for special work. The summer work in the public parks and school playgrounds must also be noted. These out-of-door gymnasia are equipped with extensive apparatus for all outdoor work. Preparatory school work in gymnastics is, by general consent, made to consist of a system of corrective, body-building exercises, made up of free-arm work and light calisthenics in the lower grades, followed by heavier calisthenics, dumb-bells, clubs and wands, light apparatus, intermediate and advanced apparatus, boxing, wrestling and fencing, interspersed with periods for recreative games, competitions and contests of skill and strength.

Bibliography. — Alexander, ‘Modern Gymnastic Exercises’ (1890); Stebbins, ‘Delsarte System of Expression’ (1892); Posse, ‘Special Kinesology or Educational Gymnastics’ (Boston 1894}; Ravenstein, ‘Volksturnbuch’ (1894); Broesike, ‘Der Menschliche Körper, mit besonderer Berucksichtigung des Turnens’ (1894); Jones, A. K., ‘Classified Gymnasium Exercises’ (Springfield, Mass., 1899); Maclaren, ‘A System of Physical Education’ (3d ed., London 1895); ‘Syllabus of Physical Exercises for Public Elementary Schools’ (ib. 1909); Maul, ‘Der Turnunterricht in Mädschenschulen’ (3d ed., Karlsruhe 1909); id., ‘Anleitung für den Turnunterricht in Knabenschulen’ (3 parts, ib. 1910); Nutzhorn and Knudsen, ‘Legemsvelser for Pigeskolen’ (Copenhagen 1913); Nissen, ‘Rational Home Gymnastics for the Well and the Sick’ (1898); Puritz, ‘Codebook of Gymnastic Exercises’ (Hanover and London, many editions); ‘Leitfaden für das Mödchenturnen in den preussischen Schulen’ (Berlin 1913); Sargent, ‘Handbook of Developing Exercises’ (Cambridge, Mass., 1899); id., ‘Health, Strength and Power’ (New York 1904; 2d ed., 1914); Törngren, ‘Lärobok i Gymnastik’ (Stockholm 1905); ‘Haandbok i Gymnastik’ (2d ed., Copenhagen 1901); ‘Haandbok i Gymnastik för Arméen och Flottan’ (Stockholm 1902); Posse, ‘The Special Kinesiology of Educational Gymnastics’ (Boston 1894); Stecher (ed.), ‘A Text-Book of the German-American System of Gymnastics’ (ib. 1896).