U.S. Gym/PE Programs: Gender Trends--Girls


Figure 1.-- This is a girls' gym class at the famous Perkins School for the Blind in Watertown, Mass (a suburb of Boston) in 1929. Many of the students at Perkins were deaf as well as blind. It seems amazing the a class of blind girls can exercise on wall bars without endangering themselves. Excercises were in fact an important means of helping blind children gain self-confidence. The girls seem to be 10-12 years old. They wear standard gear for the period consisting of white jumpers, black bloomers, and tan long stockings with hose supporters (undoubtedly attached to underwaists or garter waists). Before World War I the girls would have worn black long stockings. Subsequently the girls began to wear socks. Notice only one of the girls wear seneakers. Souce: Perkins School for the Blind.

American schools had gym programs for both boys and girls. They were largely conducted seaparately, although in recent years some schools have begun to organized coed activities. As American secondary schools were coeducational, we believe that gym programs for girls were strongly influenced by the already existing programs for boys. Gym/PE programs were initially for boys only. They began to appear at American schools (1820s) and by the Civil War were very common in the North. (Public schools did not develop in the South until after the War.) At many schools, girls were prohibited from participating in physical education. [Siedentop] This presumably reflected the attitudes of both school authotities as well as parents. We begin to see some girls doing physical education (late-19th century). As far as we can tell, gym was not as popular with the girls as it was for the boys. It was fairly standard at American high schools to have gym/PE programs for both boys and girls (early-20th century). Both the programs and of course the gym uniforms were different. The emphasis on sports was less true for the girls' gym programs, although this varied over time. The sports component was less important for the girls and the sports were different, although there was some overlap. Girls were not allowed tn participate in contact sports. Major changes occurred in the girls programs during the late-20th century. Congress passed an amendment to the Federal Education Act that prohibited discrimination in school gym and athletic prigrams based on gender. Federal laws were passed requiring public schools to provide physical education to students with disabilities as well (1969-70). This created new opportunities for girls to participate in and compete in athletic programs at both the secondary and college level. Gym uniforms were another gender issue. There were practical differences. Boys could do gym in their regular clothes, but this was not the case for girls. We believe that girls were wearing gym uniforms by the late-19th century. Middy blouses, bloomers, and long stockings were common. They eventually evolved into romper outfits. By the 1960s, the girls' uniforms began to become more similar to the boys' uniforms.

Separate Programs

American schools had gym programs for both boys and girls. They were largely conducted seaparately, comping together for dance activities. In recent years some schools have begun to organized coed activities beyond dance. As American secondary schools were coeducational, we believe that gym programs for girls were strongly influenced by the already existing programs for boys. Gym/PE programs were initially for boys only.

Chronology

Gym programs began to appear at American schools (1820s) and by the Civil War were very common in the North. (Public schools did not develop in the South until after the War.) At many schools, girls were prohibited from participating in physical education. [Siedentop] This presumably reflected the attitudes of both school authotities as well as parents. We begin to see some girls doing physical education (late-19th century). As far as we can tell, gym was not as popular with the girls as it was for the boys. It was fairly standard at American high schools to have gym/PE programs for both boys and girls (early-20th century). Both the programs and of course the gym uniforms were different. The emphasis on sports was less true for the girls' gym programs, although this varied over time. The sports component was less important for the girls and thge sports were different, although there was some overlap. Girls were not allowed tn participate in contact sports. Major changes occurred in the girls programs during the late-20th century. Congress passed an amendment to the Federal Education Act that prohibited discrimination in school gym and athletic prigrams based on gender. Federal laws were passed requiring public schools to provide physical education to students with disabilities as well (1969-70). This created new opportunities for girls to participate in and compete in athletic programs at both the secondary and college level.

Uniforms

Gym uniforms were another gender issue. There were practical differences. Boys could do gym in their regular clothes, but this was not the case for girls. The dresses worn in the late-19th and early-20th century were hardly suitabke for gym. We believe that girls were wearing gym uniforms by the late-19th century, although our images come mostly from the early-20th century. Middy blouses, bloomers, and long stockings were common. At the time it was not acceptable forvgirls to wear boys clothing. The bloomers were exceptionally long and baggy. They never became an important garment except fot gym classes, bathing suits, and summer camp outfits. They eventually evolved into romper suits by the 1940s. Rompers on the other hand became a popular casual style for girls. After the early 20th century only girls wore rompers in America. This contrasted with France where only boys wore them. Gradually short pants became acceptable for girls as well as boys. This was part of a general pattern by which girls began to wear boys clothing like pants. This was just an option. resses and skirts continud to be more common, especilly whn drssing up. Rompers did not disappear, but shorts becme more common. By the 1970s, the girls' gym uniforms began to become more similar to the boys' uniforms maning T-shirts and short pants. This followed general fashion trends as shorts became very common for girls, even mor common than fir boys.

Sources

Siedentop, Daryl, Peter A. Hastie, and Hans Van der Mars. Complete Guide to Sport Education (2004).






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Created: 1:40 AM 1/15/2012
Last updated: 12:31 AM 10/19/2017