Friday, March 31, 2006

When it came to physical education, boys always seemed to have it better than girls

"Ten Central High School girls in gym suits sit on benches doing foot exercises." (Photograph by Angus McVicar, Wisconsin Historical Image ID: No. 16048)

Is there any girl out there who really, truly loved physical education (a.k.a. gym class)? In the Sixties, you had to wear dopey looking gym suits (not very different from the ones show in the above photo, taken in 1935) or, if you had a swimming class at the YMCA, you had to don an ugly, shapeless swimsuit and a regulation swimcap that resembled those elasticized dish covers your mother and grandmother used before Saran Wrap was invented. These caps were designed to keep hair out of the water, not water out of your hair. And then there were those mandatory showers. You'd suffered all night trying to sleep with a head full of brush rollers. Then you went to gym class and got wet or sweaty (or both) and had to take a communal shower that turned that gorgeous hairdo into something that made you look like a water spaniel or a silly goose who'd taken a fall while water skiing. Finally, you had to rush to your next class, unless you lucked out and had seventh period gym class.

And if you weren't trekking to the YMCA to go swimming, or heading down to The Plaza to go bowling, you were probably playing something boring like girls' basketball, a "sport" that allowed only three dribbles. Dribble four times and it was a foul. Nascent feminist, I once asked a gym teacher why girls could only dribble three times and boys could dribble to their heart's content (or at least the best of their ability). The gym teacher told me it was because girls had weaker hearts. Why did I believe that? Why didn't I challenge that answer? Why am I still kicking myself about this after all these years?

The only sport I really loved was soccer. No girls rules there. Unfortunately, we really only played soccer if the weather was warm and we could take a bus ride down to Tenney Park and play soccer by the lagoon. Soccer games were always too short because we had to travel back and forth from school, plus allow time for those showers.

After reading about the Department of Physical Education in the 1926 Tychoberahn (see page image below), it's clear things hadn't changed too much in 40 years. Boys definitely had a better deal back then, too. Boys sports were supposed to serve all sorts of needs including alleviating "the mental strain and tension of the school room" and developing "strength and organic vigor."

If you were a girl, you had to be examined by the school physician who would determine your "physical fitness for gym work" (were you strong enough to dribble three times?). You also had to be examined by the physical director for "postural or structural irregularities." No word about the gym clothes, but they were undoubtedly dopey.

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Anonymous said...

I loved gym class!

I loved playing softball, Basketball and pretty much all of the sports, and it was a lot better than being stuck in math class or something like that!

And the cummunal showers wasn't any big deal either! After the first few showers the nudity thing wasn't even an issue, it was only us girls and our female gym instructor so no-one cared that you were nude? It was a lot better than smelling bad and feeling gross all day long!

Jennifer A

Anonymous said...

I remember attending those swim classes at the Y in the winter in Madison. It was horrible wearing those shapeless suits, and the water was always freezing. I also remember walking back to Central High from swim class, my long hair had frozen and then thawed out in dripping puddles in class.