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March 24, 2014

Celebrate Women’s History Month: Eva Gertrude May


In 1908 the College for Women held the opening reception for its new gymnasium. Before construction of Mather Gym, the Physical Training Department held its indoor exercises in Clark Hall. In addition to a new building, in 1906 the College welcomed a new Director of Physical Training, Eva Gertrude May. Miss May would remain in that position for thirty years.

A persistent advocate for the value of sports and exercise for young women, Miss May greatly increased the number of students participating in exercise. By the simple expedient of writing to all the physicians who submitted notes asking students to be excused from exercises, asking their reasons and explaining the program, fewer excuse notes were received. Miss May also substituted walking for students unable to participate in gymnasium exercises.

“We have students in college today who had never skipped a rope or handled a ball, or entered into any of the sports and games of childhood.” (Annual Report, 1909/10) Miss May introduced field hockey, croquet, indoor baseball, archery, fencing, and Hy-lo, which was originated at the College.

Securing adequate space and equipment - large and small - for the program was a continuous preoccupation. In her 1910/11 annual report she wrote, “The need of a clock, a telephone, and a good athletic field, spoken of in last year’s report, has not diminished.” Outdoor faciliities were a perennial problem. In 1917 Miss May suggested that, “basket ball and base ball be played on the campus, the health of the grass being sacrificed for the health of the students.” The campus lawns were saved by the offer of a portion of Wade Park behind the Cleveland Museum of Art for field hockey and baseball. An athletic field was constructed in 1927.

Eva Gertrude May was born August 11, 1871. She graduated from the Sargent Normal School of Physical Training in 1894. She was an Instructor in Gymnasium at Vassar College from 1895 to 1906. After serving as Director of Physical Education at Flora Stone Mather College beginning in 1906, Miss May retired in 1936. She died April 3, 1947 in Portland, Oregon.

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Women's physical education, 1911 (left) and 1931 (right)

Other Women’s History Month recollections include Florence Allen, Grazella Puliver Shepherd, Margaret Johnson, Carolyn Neff, Bess Barr LeBedoff, Mary Frances Pinches, and Helen Stankard

Posted by jmt3 at March 24, 2014 12:56 PM

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