exercise demonstration, girls tossing weights

Buiding Muscles While Building Minds: Athletics and the Early Years of Women's Education

high jump at track meet, bryn mawr college



From its earliest days Bryn Mawr College offered its students a rigorous academic program in which they could "have all the advantages of a college education which are so freely offered to young men." But skeptics questioned whether women were both mentally and physically capable of this challenge. To demonstrate to the public that the critics of advanced education for women were wrong, the College officially promised to care for the health of its students and within limits, to encourage physical activity.

Bryn Mawr's methods of fulfilling its promise reflected the standards of the day, as well as the ongoing perceived need to publicly demonstrate the results. The "physical culture" program influenced the layout of the grounds, added variety to campus life, inspired literary and satirical publications, and connected the College with other schools. In doing so, it helped present a vibrant picture of the new college woman: intelligent, active and healthy.

Barbara Ward Grubb
Visual Collections Specialist

Emily Houghton

Exhibition Curators



Back Back                        Forward Forward


The Beginning
Maintaining the Ideal

Bryn Mawr College Library Special Collections