People and Places of Dickinson College

Women's Physical Training Class Inside the First Gymnasium c. 1887.
Photograph courtesy of the Dickinson College Archives

This photograph show a women's physical education class inside the College's first purpose built physical education building.  These twelve women, led by Mary Curran in the left front comprised the total class of female students at the time; in 1887, there were fourteen women enrolled at Dickinson, through the Metzger Institute.

This first gymnasium at Dickinson College was completed in 1885.  Through the generosity of Clemuel Ricketts Woodin, of Berick, Pennsylvania, $7, 513.28 was used for the building's construction on Louther Street.  William Clare Allison, of Philadelphia, donated a large sum of money which was used in furnishing the gymnasium with the latest equipment and apparatus like hanging hand rings, climbing rope ladders, and hand weights.  The dedication of the new gym took place on January 6, 1888. (1)

The Dickinson Gymnasium - Louther and College Street

The gymnasium finally provided the college with many much needed facilities.  The main hall was seventy - five feet wide.  The first floor contained offices for directors and faculty members.  Around the inside of the hall was a gallery which allowed for the existence of a running track.  The second floor was used for bathing and dressing room accommodations.  Two wings on the east and west ends of the main hall, both eighty - four feet by twenty feet, contained the college's bowling alleys. (2)

 Up until the later half of the nineteenth century, few futile efforts had been made by both students and faculty to institute any form of physical education. In the 1870's, however, the students began pressing the administration for organized physical activities.  This time was characterized by an intense activity and spirit of experiment at the College.  In 1879, an opportunity presented itself, at least temporarily, which allowed the students to release their energy and direct it in a structured form.  The college offered a military training course under the direction of Lieutenant E.T.C. Richmond, U.S.A., of a United States Government Detail.  Unfortunately, two years later, the course was discontinued and the students were forced to search for another outlet.  By 1884, both students and professors recognized the importance of what is referred to today as Physical Education and later that year, the students had organized their own Athletic Association.  The following year, the first gymnasium was built at Dickinson College.  Physical Training, as the athletic program was called, was supervised by various faculty members.  In 1887, the Department of Physical Education was organized with the Reverend Lyman J. Muchmore acting as the first director.(3)

The gymnasium continued to serve its purpose for the following forty years, changing only to update new equipment.  In 1931, the Alumni Gymnasium was constructed and the old gymnasium was converted into a social and recreational space, often used as a banquet hall.  Fifteen years later, the building was used as the College Commons building.  On May 5, 1953, a fierce storm knocked down the entire western wall and the building was razed.  The only section which remained was the college Central Heating Plant which was built in the basement and the vestiges of which can be seen in 1998. (4)

Emilie Grenier

1.    Sellers, Charles Coleman.  Dickinson College: A History. Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, Ct., 1973: 582.
2.   Dickinson College Catalogue 1887 - 1888.  Dickinson College Archives, May Morris Room.
3.    Morgan, James Henry.  Dickinson College: 1783 - 1933.  Mount Pleasant Press, Harrisburg, Pa., 1933: 483.
4.    Sellers, Charles Coleman.  Dickinson College: A History.  Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, Ct. 1973: 583.