IN nothing else is the difference between the old and the new college more marked than in regard to athletics. Prior to 1860 the physical condition of the average student was lamentably bad. He studied hard, took little physical exercise, and his health was often undermined or ruined by attempting to board himself while working his way through college. Many came from the farm or outdoor work, and this enabled them to endure what the present student could not. Hygiene was practically unknown, as was the idea that the college student should be trained physically as well as mentally. The general question of physical exercise was not understood. After 1817 or 1818 they had good physical training at West Point and later at a few military schools. A marked general interest in such training arose about 1825, but soon died out and did not revive for thirty-five years.
Early conditions as to physical exercise.
In 1860 Harvard, Yale and Amherst erected new and, for those times, fine gymnasiums. Their use at Harvard and Yale was purely voluntary, and hence comparatively slight for many years. At Amherst the use of the gymnasium was compulsory for all the students, throughout all their course, for forty minutes four times a week, but discipline at "Gym" was not very rigid and the students enjoyed the work.
Compulsory athletics at Amherst. Much credit is due to Rev. William A. Stearns, who became president in 1854. He found the general physical condition of the students poor, and determined to improve it as a part of their college education and to graduate each individual with perfect health if possible. Four times a week each class must assemble and take some exercise together, and might take a good deal as individuals. The calisthenic exercises were helpful and pleasing, set to music and usually well done. That of the class of 1874
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Publication information: Book title: Individual Training in Our Colleges. Contributors: Clarence F. Birdseye - Author. Publisher: Macmillan Company. Place of publication: New York. Publication year: 1907. Page number: 141.