Suzan Rose Benedict at Smith College

In my last post, we followed the dark–and tragic–path of Suzan Rose Benedict in her journey from Norwalk, Ohio to Smith College. In this post, we’ll see how she fared at Smith, and how her experiences with women’s athletics might have influenced Millie Cleghorn when she introduced girls’ physical education at Norwalk High School.

In the fall of 1891, at the age of eighteen, Suzan joined the Class of 1895 at Smith College. [1] The school already had a long tradition of  promoting women’s athletics, but physical education for women there was about to make a dramatic change. The year she arrived, the college had just opened the Alumnae Gymnasium, with Swedish gymnastic equipment and a swimming pool, and outside the gym, a tennis court. [2] Physical education was mandatory, so I expect that Suzan took part, despite her heavy course load in science, mathematics and foreign language (German).

But did she participate in organized sports? I have found no record in the college archives that she did, but do know that she played sports in Norwalk. In the photo below, clipped from the image in the header of this website of her home in 1881, she and her friends are playing croquet beside the house. From later diary entries of her niece Harriott Wickham, I believe Suzan also enjoyed tennis.

Suzan Benedict and Friends Playing Tennis

Suzan Benedict playing croquet with friends in 1881

Halfway through Suzan’s first year at Smith, the gymnastics teacher fell ill and had to leave. In her place, in January 1892 the college hired Senda Bernenson, a recent graduate of the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics. Senda was energetic and immediately became popular with students and fellow faculty at Smith. Her goal was to develop the best physical education program possible.

At that time, in addition to gymnastics, for many years students and faculty had enjoyed horseback riding, hiking, boating, swimming, bowling, fencing, roller skating, golf and other more individual pursuits. Tennis and baseball were also played, but the rules for those games did not allow for much competition. True competitive team sports were not considered proper for women at the school.

The same month Senda arrived at Smith, James Naismith, an instructor at the YMCA Training School at Springfield, Massachusetts, published an article describing the rules of a new game he had invented the previous year: basketball. According to her later account, after reading this article, Senda revised the rules Naismith described in his article to avoid physical roughness, and introduced the game to her students that spring.

Basketball was a big hit, and the freshman-sophomore match quickly became one of the most popular events of the year. A fellow student of Suzan Benedict’s in the Class of 1895 described one of these matches in her journal.

“The balconies were filled with spectators and the cheering and shouting was something tremendous. The Freshman held one side, decorated with lavender in every shade and shape, while the opposite side was radiant in the brilliant green of ’95 . . .  when Miss Martin [student captain] received the golden S the girls raised her on their shoulders and marched with her about the hall.” [2]

Suzan Rose Benedict

Suzan Benedict around 1890

I have found no record of who played for the class of 1895, so I do not know if Suzan Benedict was on the field. But I have no doubt that she was in the gymnasium the night of the game described above. After graduating in the spring of 1895 with a Bachelors in Chemistry, she returned to Norwalk and began teaching mathematics in the high school that fall. [3] Although she did not, to my knowledge, teach physical education, she must have remembered fondly those exciting basketball games at Smith, and shared those memories with her colleagues.

So, when Minnie Cleghorn arrived at Norwalk High School two years later, she had a source of inspiration to guide her as she introduced physical education there. We’ll see how that turned out in my next post: Minnie Cleghorn: Life in the Fortress – 1907.

 

Sources:

[1] “Suzan Rose Benedict,” Wikipedia

[2] Betty Spears, “Senda Berenson Abbott: New Woman: New Sport;” A Century of Women’s Basketball: From Frailty to Final Four, edited by Joan S. Hult and Marianna Trekel; National Association for Girls and Women in Sport, 1907, Reston, VA; 21, 27.

[3] Judy Green and Jeanne LaDuke, “Supplementary Material for Pioneering Women in American Mathematics: The Pre-1940 PhD’s,” 74:  http://www.ams.org/publications/authors/books/postpub/hmath-34-PioneeringWomen.pdf

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Minnie Cleghorn: Oberlin College

1906 NHS Girls Gym Cropped - Copy

Minnie Cleghorn – Norwalk High School Girls’ Gym Class (in center with white blouse)

In my last post, “Athletic Girl,” we learned that English teacher Minnie Cleghorn was responsible for starting a girls’ athletic program at Norwalk High School around the beginning of the twentieth century. In today’s post, we’ll learn more about her, and what might have inspired her to introduce physical education to her female students .

Minnie Cleghorn was born in Birmingham township, Erie County, Ohio to James and Mary Cleghorn in 1863, during the darkest days of the Civil War. Her mother had been born in Canada and immigrated to New York state sometime in the 1840s. James Cleghorn, a stone mason from Massachusetts, traced his ancestry to the Mayflower. His father was also named James, as was his grandfather, who had served in the Revolutionary War. James and Mary wed in Buffalo, New York in 1845, and shortly after that moved to Birmingham, Ohio. They had seven children, three of whom died in infancy. [1] Around 1870, they moved to Wellington in Lorain county where they resided the remainder of their lives. [2]

Although James and Mary were not affluent, they must have had a high regard for education. They enrolled Minnie at Oberlin College just up the road from Wellington for the 1883-1884 school year. As far as I can tell, she was the only of her family to attend college. [3] Did her experience at Oberlin College introduce Minnie to women’s physical education? I think so, and here is why.

Oberlin College 1880

Oberlin College 1880

Founded in 1833, Oberlin College, in 1837 became the first coed college in the U.S. and the second in the world. The college was a leader of the abolitionist movement. It was the first college to admit an African American student, and its students and faculty actively supported the town of Oberlin, which a historian called “the town that started the Civil War,” as a way station on the Underground Railroad. [4]

Women’s basketball began at Oberlin in 1896, six years before the men. This was long after Minnie had left the school, but she still must have been exposed to athletics during the year she spent there. Women’s athletics had a long tradition at Oberlin. [5] The college offered co-ed classes in croquet as early as 1860, [6] and the first gymnasium for women opened in 1881, two years before Minnie arrived. In 1885, a physical education instructor was hired for the women’s athletic program, the first in the nation. [7] Although by then Minnie had returned to Wellington to teach school, it is safe to say, I think, that she stayed in touch with her former classmates at Oberlin, and attended basketball games and other sports events over the years.

Minnie taught in Wellington schools until 1897, when she was hired by the Norwalk School System with a salary of $500 per year, making her one of the highest paid faculty in the system.

Appointed in June 1897 to teach in one of the four grammar schools in the city, [8] by the first day of classes, she had been bumped up to to teach English at the high school. [9]

Teaching mathematics at the Norwalk High School that year was Suzan Rose Benedict, who had received her undergraduate degree from Smith College two years previously. A great-granddaughter of Platt and Sarah Benedict, founders of the town of Norwalk, she lived in the Benedict mansion across the street from the high school with her parents and sisters. I believe that Suzan’s stories of her experiences at Smith may have inspired Minnie to introduce a girls’ athletic program at Nowalk High School. I’ll explain my reasoning for this assertion in my next post.

Sources:

[1] Minnie Cleghorn Personal Page, WeRelate Wiki

[2] “Wellington,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, February 10, 1899, page 4, column 2.

[3] “Students, 1833-1908,” General Catalogue of Oberlin College, 1830-1908; Oberlin, Ohio; April 1, 1909, page 194.

[4] “Oberlin College,” Wikipedia

[5] Marc Horger, “Basketball and Athletic Control at Oberlin College: 1896-1915,” Journal of Sport History; Volume 23, Number 3; Fall 1996; 258-9.

[6] Kenney, Karen, “The Realm of Sports and the Athletic Woman: 1850-1900,” ,” in Her Story in Sport: A Historical Anthology of Women in Sport, Ed. Reet Howell, PhD. (Leisure Press, West Point, NY: 1982), 123.

[7] Marc Horger, “Basketball and Athletic Control at Oberlin College: 1896-1915,” 271.

[8] “Teachers for the Next Year,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, June 9, 1897, page 3, column 5

[9] “Public Schools,” The Norwalk Daily Reflector, September 4, 1897, page 3, column 5

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The Athletic Girl in 1907

Athletic Girl!

As we saw in my last post, this term well described the girls of the Norwalk High School Class of 1907. Sports was as important for them during their senior year as it was for the boys of the class. They had participated in gym classes for years, and competed in intramural and extramural sports. Norwalk High School had fielded a girls’ basketball team as early as December 1904, the class of 1907s sophomore year.

What did “Athletic Girl” mean in 1907? Where did the girls of Norwalk High School get the idea that sports were an appropriate feminine pursuit? Let’s take a look.

The “Athletic Girl” of the first decade of the twentieth century was an offshoot of the “New Woman” movement, which flourished the last half of the previous century. It promoted the idea that women, at least in the upper and middle classes, had a place in public life. The “New Woman” was in turn a result of the women’s rights movement that sprang from the antebellum abolitionist and temperance movements. [1]

As they would do in every major war that followed, many women in the North during the Civil War, especially those in the more affluent classes, moved into professions previously reserved for men, such as nursing, and continued to be active in the Abolitionist movement. At the end of that conflict, many men assumed these women would return to domestic pursuits. In reaction, a “New Woman” movement surfaced at Wellesley, Vassar, Smith and other women’s colleges in the east. A component of this movement was the introduction of women’s sports, which grew slowly at first, then exploded during the period 1890 to 1910. [2]

Before the Civil War and immediately afterwards, recreation for women was limited to horseback riding, walking and other non-competitive activities. Around 1870, other sports such as lawn tennis, bicycling, bathing, sleighing, skating and archery were introduced in women’s colleges. Even boxing became a women’s sport, the first match being held in 1876. [3]

In the 1880s, women educators began to be trained in physical education at institutions such as the Sargent School and the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics. Graduates of these schools went on to introduce physical exercise programs for women on college campuses around the nation. [4]

Later, competitive team sports, such as field hockey, baseball, track and field, and basketball were added to women’s athletic programs. At first, most colleges limited play to intramural matches, but as time went on, extramural games were added. [5]

Social life at some coed and women’s schools at the beginning of the 20th century began to revolve around competitive sports, and the “Athletic Girl” was extolled as an example of a the truly modern woman. Popular magazines celebrated the “hardy sun-tanned girl,” who competed in sports and spent her summers playing outdoors. [6]

Although there were other careers for women at the turn of the 19th century, many female college graduates went into teaching, and most of them taught at high schools. Because of their experience with sports in college, many of these women were anxious to introduce physical education to their female students. Often, they found a receptive audience in the male educators of that “Progressive Era.” [7]

That’s what happened at Norwalk High School. Women’s basketball was introduced there as early as 1904. [8] And who coached that team? English teacher Minnie Cleghorn, whom we introduced in an earlier post. Where did she gain her interest and expertise in athletics? We’ll find out in my next post.

Sources:

[1] Betty Spears, “Senda Berenson Abbott: New Woman: New Sport;” A Century of Women’s Basketball: From Frailty to Final Four, edited by Joan S. Hult and Marianna Trekel; National Association for Girls and Women in Sport, 1907, Reston, VA; 19.

[2] Squires, Mary-Lou, “Sport and the Cult of ‘True Womanhood’: A Paradox at the Turn of the Century,” in Her Story in Sport: A Historical Anthology of Women in Sport, Ed. Reet Howell, PhD. (Leisure Press, West Point, NY: 1982), 101-105.

[3] Kenney, Karen, “The Realm of Sports and the Athletic Woman: 1850-1900,” in Her Story in Sport: A Historical Anthology of Women in Sport, Ed. Reet Howell, PhD. (Leisure Press, West Point, NY: 1982), 107-140.

[4] Susan K. Cahn, Coming on Strong: Gender and Sexuality in Women’s Sport; University of Illinois Press, Urbana, Chicago, and Springfield, 2015; 13.

Ibid [5] Kenney, Karen, “The Realm of Sports and the Athletic Woman: 1850-1900,” in Her Story in Sport: A Historical Anthology of Women in Sport, Ed. Reet Howell, PhD.; 107-140.

[6] Susan K. Cahn, Coming on Strong; 7, 18.

[7] Robert Pruter, “Chapter 8: The New Athletic Girl and Interscholastic Sports”, The Rise of American High School Sports and the Search for Control: 1880-1930, Syracuse University, 2013; 146-147.

[8] “Basketball Friday,” The Norwalk Evening Herald, December 9, 1903, page 1, column

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