In April 2001, Duke celebrated thirty years of women's varsity athletics. While intercollegiate women's competition here is of fairly recent origin, a concern with women's physical education and sport is of long standing.
At Trinity College, formal physical education classes began early in the 20th century. In 1902, Wilbur Wade "Cap" Card, Class of 1900, became the director of the gymnasium and physical education. Card received his training in PE at Harvard's Summer School of Physical Education. In the photo, left, he is on the far left, second row from the top, in the white turtleneck. Judging by the number of women in this photo, there was clearly an interest in women's "physical culture" at the turn of the century.
According to recollections of staff and alumnae, Card taught classes in calisthenics and basic gymnastics for women. By 1919, a Ms. Pauline Smathers had been employed as Director of Physical Exercise for Women. In the College Bulletin for 1919-1920, the requirements for the degree of Bachelor of Arts included three hours per week of physical exercise, counting as one credit-hour.
The first organization for women athletes here was Delta Phi Rho Alpha, founded in 1921. This local sorority, formed to honor outstanding women athletes, initiated up to a dozen members each year. It also sponsored intramural tennis and basketball tournaments.
Also in 1921, Southgate Hall was built. Designed as a self-contained coordinate college for women, one wing of the building housed a gymnasium equipped for basketball, volleyball and gymnastics. The fields to the west were used for classes in archery, hockey, and tennis. At the time, about 150 of the 700 undergraduate students were women.
In 1924, Julia R. Grout (1898-1984), right, was appointed as the first full-time Director of Physical Education for Women. Known to all as "Jerry," she had received her BA from Mt. Holyoke 1920, and her MS in Hygiene and Physical Education from Wellesley in 1924. By the late 1920's, the Department of Physical Education had distinct men's and women's divisions.
In 1930 the Trinity campus became home to the Women's College of Duke University, and with sole use of the facilities, the athletic program for women began to expand. Ms.--later Professor--Grout added courses in baseball, riding, swimming, hiking, track and field, and various styles of dancing. A minor in physical education for teachers was offered in 1932, and a full major 1943. By the end of the decade, the Women's Physical Education Department consisted of a full professor, Ms. Grout, along with two associate professors, two assistant professors, and five instructors.
By the early 1950s, the program in physical education for women had reached maturity. The Women's Recreation Association, dating from the early 1930s, cooperated with the Department to organize recreational athletic activities for the students. An extensive program of intramural team and individual sports developed.
The decade of the 1960s saw a major change when people began to question the value of required physical education. With the adoption of Duke's "new" curriculum in 1968, PE courses would no longer count toward degree requirements after 1970. However, by this time also, national interest in collegiate athletics for women was beginning to develop, and the passage by the US Congress of Title IX in 1972 would pressure schools to devote equal resources to women's sports. The early history of these developments at Duke is described in a 1976 brochure issued by the Athletic Department, titled "The History of Women's Athletics at Duke." The text:
"Women's Athletics has existed for four years at Duke and represents gradual growth from occasional interscholastic games in the 1950's and 60's to a regular schedule of competition within the framework of the Women's Physical Education Department in the 1970's. The basic purpose of the program is to provide Duke women with challenging competition which will contribute to their total educational experience. The conditions of competition, i.e., the coaching, amount of practice, length of season, and calibre of opposition, are arranged to help participants reach a high level of individual and team performance without jeopardizing their academic pursuits. The program has grown steadily.
In 1970-71 brief schedules were played by volleyball and basketball teams, fencers practiced with the men and competed in a few meets, and a tennis team was organized. In 1971-72 a small travel budget was provided and a member of the Women's Physical Education Department was named to coordinate the program. Also Duke became a charter member of the new Association of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women. Teams were fielded in basketball, fencing, field hockey, gymnastics, swimming, tennis, and volleyball. In 1972-73 the same seven teams competed and plans were made for adding a golf team. The budget was larger than before but was inadequate for essential equipment which was borrowed from teaching supplies.
The 1973-74 season was marked by increased interest and commitment of students and coaches, and by additional financial support. Consequently the results were more satisfying. The hockey, volleyball, and tennis teams compiled winning records; gymnastics, swimming, and basketball grew stronger throughout the season; and the golf team completed its first year with significant individual improvement and a 3-3 team record. In 1974-75 all teams performed at a higher level of excellence than before. A junior varsity tennis team was organized and had a successful season. The emergence of Women's Athletics on the national scene was accompanied by an upsurge of interest on the Duke campus. A group of lacrosse players practiced regularly under the leadership of a member of the Women's Physical Education staff and ended the spring season with two scrimmage games against UNC-CH. A group of ardent crew enthusiasts trained during the winter, sponsored numerous fund raising projects, and sharing UNC-CH's equipment, rowed regularly. In the spring they entered two competitive events.
The Women's Athletics program is definitely gaining momentum in the 70's. Administrative change is imminent in 1975-76 when the Women's Physical Education Department which has sponsored the program will be merged with the Men's Department. The desire of the student athletes and the coaches to improve and expand the program will undoubtedly continue to be a strong force for progress."
Note: The title "Skirts, Bloomers, and Shorts" is taken from a speech by Julia Rebecca Grout (1898-1984), Duke's first full-time director of women's PE.
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