Active Bodies

Active Bodies : A History of Women's Physical Education in Twentieth-Century America

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During the twentieth century, opportunities for exercise and sports grew significantly for girls and women in the United States. Among the key figures who influenced this revolution were female physical educators. Drawing on extensive archival research, Active Bodies examines the ideas, experiences, and instructional programs of white and black female physical educators who taught in public schools and diverse colleges and universities, including coed and single-sex, public and private, and predominantly white and historically black institutions. Working primarily with female students, women physical educators had to consider what an active female could and should do in comparison to boys and men. Applying concepts of sex differences, they debated the implications of female anatomy, physiology, reproductive functions, and psychosocial traits for achieving gender parity in the gym. Teachers' interpretations were conditioned by the places where they worked, as well as developments in education, feminism, and the law, society's changing attitudes about gender, race, and sexuality, and scientific controversies over the nature and significance of sex differences.
While deliberating fairness for their students, women physical educators also pursued equity for themselves, as their workplaces and nascent profession often marginalized female and minority personnel. Questions of difference and equity divided the field throughout the century; while some teachers favored moderate views and incremental change, others promoted justice for their students and themselves by exerting authority at their schools, critiquing traditional concepts of "difference," and devising innovative curricula. Exploring physical education within and beyond the gym, Active Bodies sheds new light on the enduring complexities of difference and equity in American culture.
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Product details

  • Hardback | 416 pages
  • 166 x 232 x 34mm | 698.53g
  • Oxford, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 27 hts
  • 0195168798
  • 9780195168792
  • 2,169,428

Table of contents

Acknowledgments ; Introduction: Body, Science, and Difference in the Gym ; 1. "Who is that woman?": Female Physical Educators, 1890s-1940s ; 2. Active Womanhood and the Science of Sex Differences, 1890s-1940s ; 3. Gym Periods and Monthly Periods, 1900-1940 ; 4. Gender, Race, and Equity: Howard University and the University of Nebraska ; 5. "The Joy of Hard Play": Competitive Activities for College Women, 1920s-1950s ; 6. Separate and Unequal: The Public Schools of Washington, D.C., 1890s-1950s ; 7. "It's just the gym": Female Physical Educators, 1950-2005 ; 8. Physical Fairness: Science, Feminism, and Sex Differences, 1950-2005 ; 9. Exercising Caution: Physical Activity and Reproductive Health, 1940-2005 ; Conclusion: Justice in the Gym ; Notes ; Select Bibliography ; Index
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Review Text

Verbrugge's definitive history of women's physical education in the United States documents the development of a discipline that changed dramatically during the twentieth century...What may seem like a dry read, however, provides a foundation for understanding the contemporary challenges faced by girls and women in their pursuits to engage in all forms of physical activity, including competitive sport. Maureen M. Smith, Journal of Women's History
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Review quote

"Martha Verbrugge's scholarly and critical analysis of the history of physical education within the political and social backdrop of twentieth century America brings to life the role of gym class in the lives of girls and women across the nation. Painting a brilliant and moving portrait of the world of female physical educators in a field that is still gendered, hierarchical, and insecure, she provides powerful arguments about the ways in which the profession, standing at the crossroads of science, culture, and daily life, has historically located-and continues to locate-sex differences directly in the body."--Patricia Vertinsky, University of British Columbia

"Verbrugge rescues women's gym class experiences from merely the loving wonder of singer Meg Christian's 'Ode to a Gym Teacher' or our worst memories of failure. Active Bodies is a tour de force history of the role of physical education in the naturalization of gender, sexuality, and racial differences and the struggle waged for equality and justice. Written with wit coupled to the research and narrative skills of a great historian, Verbrugge's work provides what will become a classic in women's educational and sports history."--Susan M. Reverby, Wellesley College

"Focusing on female physical education instructors in high schools and colleges over the course of the twentieth century, Martha Verbrugge has written a model study of the interaction of scientific, medical, and feminist theories of the female body as they are interpreted by educators directly involved in disciplining and liberating the adolescent female body. With a nuanced perspective, Verbrugge deals with difference as well as similarity, showing variations by region and institutions, black as well as white. A must read for historians of education and of sports, Verbrugge's sweeping perspective elucidates the history of women more generally, while showing the persistence of racism and homophobia even in eras of general advance." --
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About Martha H. Verbrugge

Martha H. Verbrugge is Presidential Professor in the Department of History at Bucknell University and the author of Able-Bodied Womanhood: Personal Health and Social Change in Nineteenth-Century Boston.
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