Popular Science Monthly/Volume 71/August 1907/The Re-Awakening of the Physical Conscience

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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 the Olympian games, to the prizes offered for the greatest achievements in poetry or art.

Eighty years ago there was not a college gymnasium in the United States, to-day a college without a gymnasium is unknown. Eighty years ago gymnastic instructors were not to be had and no one in America knew how to produce them. Now there are a number of normal and training schools turning out physical instructors and yet the demand keeps so far ahead of the supply that such teachers are paid, when engaged, about twice as much as the teachers in other branches, and, as for the colleges, gentlemen of liberal culture, graduates in the arts and in medicine, are glad to accept positions as directors of the gymnasia and of the physical training.

In two hundred cities of the United States there were three years ago vacation schools, and schools of like character were projected in Buenos Ayres and Amsterdam. Similar schools are also in operation in London. These schools are chiefly for the teaching of manual training, games and deportment, and employed in New York City 1,400 teachers in 1903. In St. Louis a practise was instituted of taking the older boys in the vacation schools to see the principal base-ball games played in the city, as a means of enhancing their interest in manly sport.

As the result of a questionnaire, Dr. McCurdy, of the Springfield Training School, found that out of 555 cities in the United States, from which he got replies, 128, or 23 per cent., employ special physical training teachers (102 men and 189 women). Practically aU the schools in the 555 cities had playgrounds. Of 427 schools not employing special physical training teachers, 190 used some special system of physical training. Of the high schools of the 128 cities employing physical training teachers, 113, or 88 per cent., have football teams, and in 386 other cities, 319, or 83 per cent., have football teams, while half as many of the grammar schools in both classes had football teams. In 36 per cent, of the cities where special physical training teachers are not employed, and in 68 per cent, of those where such teachers are employed, there are in addition special athletic instructors, or "coaches," for the most part under the direction of the students themselves. It is a commentary on the courage of American boys that there were more football teams than baseball, basket-ball or track teams in these 514 cities. The large majority of the school superintendents approves of competitive athletics in the high schools. Dr. McCurdy speaking of the need of gymnastic exercises for the girls says, "adequate and satisfactory teaching will be absolutely necessary for both sexes in the near future."

Dr. Luther Halsey Gulick, director of physical training in the New York City public schools, has just submitted a statement in regard to the athletic clubs formed among the male scholars in the schools. These clubs are maintained by the boys themselves with the aid of the teachers and some outside friends. President Roosevelt is honorary vice-president of their athletic league and other distinguished men are serving as its officers. Especial stress is laid in the statement upon the devotion of the teachers, of whom 411 did volunteer service during the past year in helping the boys with their athletics after school hours. Had they been paid for this work at the same rate which they are paid for their regular duties, they would have received in the aggregate $120,000, a very handsome contribution to the cause of school athletics; especially when it is remembered that many teachers require the hours after school for post-graduate and other work necessary for their own professional advancement.

Two hundred and twenty-four schools in Greater New York reported on athletics last year, of which 83 had regular organizations and 165 had available grounds for practise. The students pay dues into the athletic treasury at an average rate of twenty-eight cents per term, and 21,873 of them took part in the athletic sports during the year. Dr. Gulick has under him a supervisor of physical instruction in each borough and a total of fifty or sixty teachers in this branch of public instruction. The work has been admirably organized. Similar organizations have been started and have made excellent progress in Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago, and other cities. Emissaries from various foreign governments have visited the physical training schools of New York to study their methods. Two or three delegations have been here from Japan.[1] The director of physical training in the schools of the City of Mexico has recently visited New York on his tour around the world to inspect the various systems of physical instruction now in use, and upon his recommendation three men and three women will be sent to New York to receive the technical training requisite to fit them to teach physical education in the City of Mexico. One such teacher (a woman) has already gone from New York to work in the City of Mexico.

The United States government is now sending the director of physical training at West Point to visit England, Germany, France, Italy, Austria and Sweden for the purpose of thoroughly studying the systems of physical training practised in the armies of those countries. The Greek government has recently requested the authorities of Harvard University to send information regarding American gymnasia that will aid in constructing and equipping the gymnasium at Athens.

The Sunday Schools have also begun organizing athletic leagues. In 1904, twenty-five Sunday Schools in the borough of Brooklyn organized an athletic league which had a membership of fifty schools in a few months. Notices now appear in the daily papers of athletic meetings, including wrestling and similar sports, by church societies. While this might be regarded in the light of an effort to fight the devil with his own weapons by providing some sports that will really attract men and boys to the church society meetings, nevertheless it is due in part at least, to the widespread demand for physical education; a phase of modern life long since utilized by the Young Men's Christian Associations. Of late years, however, the increased demand for this kind of teaching has taxed the resources of the associations heavily, and the work is constantly growing, as the following figures will show: The attendance at the Young Men's Christian Association gymnasia in this country has increased from about 50,000 ten years ago to 154,000 in 1906, or over three-fold. All the extension work, so called, which is the teaching of physical exercises in schools, colleges, churches, clubs, etc., by Christian Association men, has been developed in the past decade, whereas, "the shop work," namely, teaching the industrial classes right habits of living, has been taken up within the past three years, and 271 leaders are engaged in work of this kind.

Ten years ago, eight per cent, of the Young Men's Christian Association directors had received technical preparation as physical instructors. To-day, thirty-nine per cent, have received such preparation. So in the Young Women's Christian Association physical instruction has become an important feature. There are at present over 80 associations, out of 138 reporting, giving such instruction, whereas sixteen years ago there were only two. Of a total membership of 68,803 women, there were in 1905 11,153, or 16 per cent., enrolled ra the physical training classes, as against 9,001, of 13 per cent., enrolled in the Bible study classes.

That other countries feel the working of the same leaven, the following incident testifies: Not very long ago, the Pope consented to act as patron of the athletic societies of Italy, and invited them to give exhibitions in the courts of the Vatican. This innovation met with great opposition from the members of the papal court. His Holiness, however, was not to be dissuaded from his purpose, saying to the protesting cardinals, "Come and see these brave boys, you will be rejuvenated by fifty years, and they will gain from it in the health of their bodies, and above all in that of their souls." Accordingly, races, trials of strength and gymnastic contests were held in the great courts and gardens of the papal palace, the contestants receiving over two hundred gold and silver medals from the Pope, who had caused temporary thrones to be erected for himself and his court from which they witnessed the sports. Even in the island of Porto Rico athletic contests are superseding cock-fighting as a national amusement.

Not only, however, is there an unwonted activity in physical education, but the subject of personal and general hygiene never before received one half the attention that it does at this moment. The city of Philadelphia alone spends more resources and employs more agents in the interests of public health to-day than did the whole English speaking world a century ago. Not only has the movement to give every child, rich and poor alike, a good physical education become quite general, but steps are also taken to guard his health from contagion and from every injurious influence during his school life.

The first international congress on school hygiene was held in Nuremberg in 1904 and has been followed "by increased literary activity in nearly every country." The second is called to meet in London in August, 1907. King Edward will be the patron of the congress, and Sir Lauder Brunton its president. Steps are being taken to interest the entire civilized world in the effort "to promote by continued activity, in any way the cause of health and knowledge in education." Medical inspection of schools was introduced in Boston in 1890; in Philadelphia in 1892; in Chicago in 1896; and in New York in 1897. In Brussels special school physicians were first appointed in 1874. Now dentists and oculists have been appointed to the schools, and instruction in hygiene is given in eighty-five per cent, of them. Similar measures have been inaugurated in nearly every capital of Europe, and in the high school of Brookline, Massachusetts. The Russian Society for the Preservation of the Public Health has recently arranged a program for the investigation of the hygienic condition of the schools, and probably in every city of any size in America and many country places as well, medical inspection of schools is now a regular practise.

The great educational value of play, as such, has at last begun to be recognized. A German commission some few years ago visited the English public schools under instructions to study the influence of the games and sports carried on there upon the physical and intellectual development of the students. Their report was such that steps were immediately taken to introduce athletic sports and games into the German schools. An annual of four or five hundred pages entirely devoted to play is now published in that country, where, in fact, most of the pedagogic movements of the past century have originated, and after careful investigation, the play ground movement was systematically undertaken there; and there is now in some German cities a law requiring that each school shall provide a minimum play space for each pupil, which in Munich, for example, must be at least twenty-five square feet in area. In Berlin, there is a forty-acre play ground intended solely for small children. Play conferences are being held annually in the larger German cities and thousands of teachers are being taught to play games with the children.

France, on the other hand, has manifested much less interest in play. The games played by the children are mostly of a trivial nature, and there seems to be no literature on the subject. The superior morale of the German army, as evinced in the Franco-Prussian War, was the natural consequence of the better educational methods of the Germans. As the Duke of Wellington asserted that the battle of Waterloo was won on the football fields of Eton and Rugby, so one might say that the patriotic ardor of Jahn, who taught the Prussian soldiery gymnastic exercises from patriotic motives, bore fruit in the victory of Sedan. Yet in France, a strong attempt was made a few years ago to popularize athletic sports. Prizes were offered by various corporations and municipalities for excellence in various contests, in which thousands of the people, mostly I believe employees of the factories and shops, took a more or less conspicuous part.

In England, the home of manly sport, one finds many municipalities owning their football and cricket fields, just as they own a town hall, and many of the working men and boys spend their half holidays playing games. The public schools in that country are admirably supplied with playgrounds, and cricket and football are compulsory in these schools for all the scholars physically qualified to play, and, furthermore, the teachers are required to play with the pupils; and now in London the authorities declare their intention to have a playground within a quarter of a mile of every home.

In the United States there is an effort being made to replan our cities so as to make adequate provision for play for young and old. Our playgrounds are now absurdly inadequate. Until 1899, a section of New York City, containing 500,000 inhabitants, had no open space whatever for play. The movement toward bettering this condition of things is so vigorous and so general, thanks to the efforts of such philanthropists as Jacob Riis, and the results of what has already been accomplished in New York are so gratifying, that great and continued improvement may be confidently expected. The city now sets aside, we are told in the report of the United States Commissioner of Education, $300,000 each year for the purchase of playgrounds, and $1,000,000 a year for small parks. Unfortunately it will take $100,000,000 to buy enough land to provide the 630,000 children now in the city with room enough to play in.

Chicago has over 73 acres of playgrounds; Philadelphia 110 acres; Brooklyn 40, and Boston, the most intellectual city in the country, has the largest area of playgrounds, nearly 200 acres. In each of the new playgrounds of New York, which were opened in seven of the smaller parks in 1903, there were gymnastic and kindergarten instructors in charge. These are for children under fifteen; Chicago has five or six such playgrounds, and ten more were to be opened in 1903. The new municipal playground, in Seward Park in New York, is probably the best in the world. It cost the city $2,500,000. There are from two to three thousand children playing there most of the time when the schools are not in session, and at 7 P. M. from 6,000 to 7,000 are there, practically every day. A philanthropist has offered to spend $4,000,000 in laying out and equipping a playground, bathing pavilion and beach on Staten Island, and providing a steamboat to take a large number, probably a thousand, poor children from New York to the beach and back every day. So long ago as 1902 there were ten roof gardens provided in New York City, at each of which the average daily attendance was 2,000. There were besides twenty play centers and seven recreation piers. Swimming-baths were also provided and fifty swimming teachers. In Glasgow were the first municipal playgrounds, and be it observed in passing, this was one of the first cities in the world to adopt municipal ownership of public utilities.

As playgrounds are gradually being established all over the civilized world, so opportunities for proper personal cleanliness are gradually being provided for the humblest citizen. In Munich a public bath house has just been opened. A gift to the city from a private citizen. It cost $500,000, twice as much as the complete gymnasium at Yale. Public baths have been opened in London and other foreign cities. In Boston, of the American cities, probably the best bathing facilities are provided for the common people. It is estimated that each inhabitant of the city may enjoy five baths a year, whereas in the densely crowded districts of New York, Baltimore and Chicago, the Department of Labor found only two to three per cent, of the houses supplied with baths in 1894. Now, however, in Seward Park in New York, and presumably in the other new parks, excellent public baths are provided in addition to a number of floating baths.

There has been a strange awakening in the Empire of China in these latter days; we can scarcely believe the reports that China is now turning to the light, and that the conservatism of centuries is at last yielding to the influence of modern ideas. But it is so. And one of the best evidences of real advance toward the liberation of man from the moral and physical bondage of generations is that an imperial edict exhorts "parents to refrain from binding their daughters' feet," and declares that men who wish to hold office must not have wives or daughters whose feet are bound. At Peking a newspaper[2] for women has been established, edited by a Chinese woman; one of its objects is the teaching of hygiene. Another recent imperial edict forbids the smoking of opium in China.

The present world-wide agitation against child labor is another suggestive fact which points toward a physical millenium. Child labor laws have been very generally enacted. In New Zealand all employed women and children have been placed under strict legal protection. The strictest child labor law in the world probably has been enacted in that country.

In the new Japan, physical excellence is part of their religion; it is demanded by Bushido, their moral code, and by patriotism. The feeble of body among the Samurai will not marry. Dr. Griffis informs us in "The Mikado's Empire," that by means of physical reconstruction of the whole people, through improved hygienic and preventive measures against disease and wounds, Japan in 1904 has become a new nation. As compared with their status in 1870, they have been raised to the fifth power. At the same time, the soldiers have increased remarkably in stature, while the recruits ia the English army have deteriorated in physique, owing presumably to intemperance and vicious living.

The Turners' societies in America are constantly growing in numbers and influence. Their first normal school of gymnastics was organized in 1861. Over sixty per cent, of their members enlisted in the Union armies, and the financial resources of the gymnastic societies and of the female auxiliaries were taxed to the utmost in aiding the families of their members who were in the army and in caring for the widows and orphans of those who had been killed. Every member of a turnverein is required to become a naturalized citizen of the United States. As Ling in Sweden and Jahn in Prussia organized their gyro.nastic societies from motives of patriotism, so, as we have just seen, the Turners in the United States were organized. At present they have 237 unions with about 40,000 members, and stand for all that is best in government, education, morals and good citizenship. The basis of their work is a sound physical education.

The growing interest in humaniculture can not truthfully be said to be due to a passing fashion. On the contrary, it is a part of a mighty movement, and like other great movements in human evolution, it is worthy of serious study. Not simply in its more obvious relations, but in its bearing upon other movements and other influences in human progress. As man is now advancing, in self discipline, in charity, and in civic virtue, in short, as he is passing out of the age of individualism into that of fraternalism, evidence is abundant on every side that the body beautiful, the visible expression of a strong and lofty soul, shall no longer be neglected and its care and development left to chance or ignorance. Physical education and civic virtue, which is but an active demonstration of the love of one's fellows, are advancing with equal step. Charity, patience and courage are the attributes of the well-trained and vigorous physique, and these traits of character are daily becoming more common.

Instances similar to those appearing in this paper probably might be multiplied indefinitely, yet enough have been cited, it seems to me, to prove the contention that in nearly every quarter of the earth, pagan and Christian alike, are to be perceived unmistakable signs of the approach of a general "physical renaissance such as the world has only seen twice, or perhaps thrice, and which preceded the most brilliant periods in the intellectual history of mankind." In spite of the lamentations which we so often hear of the sordidness and vulgarity of modern life, of the brazen display of wealth and the venality of public men, there are not wanting many signs that the tide is setting in toward a higher and a nobler manhood and a purer, simpler and more wholesome life, and not the least of these signs is the evidence just cited, gathered from many different sources, that the physical conscience is again, after slumbering for 2,000 years, awaking and asserting itself, and will rule the world again as it did in ancient Greece.

If the coming man will listen to its voice it will lead him into a civilization that will surpass that of Greece by as much as the present age surpasses that of Pericles in the "solid progress of the sciences and their application to the useful arts."

  1. The great interest which Japan has always taken in matters of physical education showed itself in 1876 by the visit which her vice-minister of education paid to Amherst College under orders from his government to study and report upon the system of physical instruction in use there. This was followed by a request from the Japanese government that an instructor be sent from Amherst to introduce Dr. Hitchcock's system into the government schools in Japan. The request was complied with to the great satisfaction of the Japanese.
  2. The circulation of journals devoted to health and hygiene has increased in this country until one of the best known is said to issue 300,000 copies each month.