Kimball Union Academy school photograph taken in 1896 in front of the old
Dexter Richards Hall (aka: the Bird Village Inn).
Principal William Cummings is center, second row. 

What role did athletics play in the lives of the young ladies of the nineteenth century? Was their only activity besides long walks, cheering on the boys as they competed in baseball and football games? Perhaps not, as they were allowed to use the equipment in the “new gym” located in the largest of four rooms in the basement of the recently opened Baxter Hall.

An article in the school newspaper, The Kimball Union, February 1893, informs us that, “The class of young ladies under Miss Johnson seems to be benefited by their regular and careful exercise, if we may judge by appearances. Some of them have lately been seen a long way from the protecting walls of the academy, tramping through three feet of snow with evident enjoyment. We hear now and then of some of their feats of strength and agility. For instance, one of them made several successive trips across the overhead ladder, while another cleared something like 3.5 feet in the high jump. Doing well, girls!”

The author added humorously that “Our striking bag has at last succumbed to the vigorous blows of some of their would-be boxers, and it is not quite certain whether it was struck by one of the young ladies or not.”

By January 1894, a detailed article called, The Girl of K.U.A., appeared in The Kimball Union. A section of it states, “In the class-room she has an opportunity to compete with her ‘chivalrous brother,’ and here, as almost everywhere else, very successfully. Here we find that wholesome rivalry which is such an important argument in favor of co-education.

“In physical culture, of course she is not her brother’s equal, but in this she is by no means to be forgotten. With the tennis racket in summer and on the ice in winter she shows no little skill. It is no uncommon thing to see four or five girls walking around the ‘mile square’ in a severe rain or snow storm, and evidently enjoying it immensely.”

The girls with their tennis rackets in hand, 1896.

Today we take great pride in our multi-talented women athletes in schools and at the professional level around the world. We sometimes forget the struggles of our strong, pioneer women of previous centuries who worked tirelessly to become equal citizens in all aspects of life: to be educated, to vote, to earn a fair living and to compete in the world of athletics.

The 1894 article concludes with these words, “The K.U.A. girls of old have made some brilliant records during the last half century, and have been an honor to their Alma Mater. May the present inmates of the old Academy not fall short of this, but if possible do more, in the coming years, for the enlightenment and ennobling of all man-kind.”

“You go, girl!”

Next time: Commencement

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