Walter Camp: Football and the Modern Man

By Julie Des Jardins | Go to book overview

4
Manifest Destiny, 1892–1893

ACCORDING TO UNIVERSITY OF WISCONSIN history professor Frederick Jackson Turner, the 1890s marked the closing of the American frontier—both a momentous and foreboding occasion, depending on how one looked at it. White American men had essentially conquered a continent, and yet in the wake of the conquering, they would experience fewer opportunities to fight Indians and live ruggedly in uncharted lands, which meant fewer man-making rites of passage to experience. Camp thought long and hard about the shifting tides, but he was not worried. With his invention of downs, he had created a new way to teach Eastern boys the virile lessons of Manifest Destiny: Capture territory, hold possession, or surrender it to stronger opponents. As boys fought hard to eke out yards and progress from one chalk line to the next, he believed that they were morphing into men.1

And this transformation was spreading westward. Fifteen years earlier, Camp noted that football was “indulged in only by one or two of the colleges”; by 1890, he was able to boastfully declare, “The terms punt, drop kick and touchdown, which were Greek to many ears, are now intelligible to every boy.”2 Now more than fifty Eastern colleges fielded teams, with Williams, Amherst, Dartmouth, and Bowdoin forming the New England Intercollegiate Athletic Association. By 1892, football was in mid-Atlantic schools like Lehigh, Franklin and Marshall,

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