Health, Exercise, and Sports Sciences ETDs

Publication Date

Spring 5-8-1970


A study of the history of physical education in the United States indicated that a common denominator existed in the historical vitae of many of the early leaders. The intriguing facet was that many of these leaders were medical doctors, a point which stimulated further study. The history of a subject helps to illuminate past events, gives depth, breadth, and can add greater perspec­tive to present events. It was hoped that a study of this nature would recognize various unique contributions of early leaders and provide a springboard for future historical studies. This chronicle of the medical back­grounds and contributions of selected early leaders of physical education should provide significant insight into present and past events and practices. The statement of the problem was as follows:

Why were many early leaders of physical education medical doctors and what was their impact upon the profession?

Hypotheses were:

  1. The medical doctors had a great positive influence upon physical education and were instrumental in developing the program.
  2. The medical doctors went into physical education by design.
  3. Hygiene and physical education were closely related in the early years and this relationship permitted medical doctors to enter the physical education field.

Delimitations of the study centered around the fact that only selected medical doctor leaders were the objects of the research. Basic assumptions were summa­rized by making statements to the effect that there was a need for this type of research. The review of related literature appeared to establish the fact that no previous study of this nature had been done. Techniques similar to those employed in the research were used in preceding studies. Biographical studies were helpful for content, resources, and design. The historical method, involving great dependence upon library sources, was employed.

A history of medical education established some basic background information which was used as a starting point for further research. This medical history estab­lished the fact that medical degrees were relatively easy to obtain during the years under study. Various schools were strictly business propositions for the purpose of monetary gain for their operators. Even in most schools, education took an average of only two years and criteria for admission were often slight. Medicine improved in the United States after Abraham Flexner surveyed medical schools in 1909-1910 for the Carnegie Foundation. Flexner's report, coupled with American Medical Association actions, caused several schools to go out of existence and others to improve.

While the medical education was going through its growth pains, the education of teachers of physical education was going through its birth pangs. The develop­ment of American physical education training schools began about the time of the Civil War. Between the Civil War era and the Flexner Report several respectable and unique schools for prospective physical educators began to undertake the task of educating the future leaders from the hands of the medical schools. After the publication of Flexner's Report the medical schools no longer provided abbreviated medical degrees, and this fact, coupled with the growing awareness of the need for physical education specialized training, helped turn the corner in American physical education.

The research into the educational backgrounds of the seventeen leaders chosen for the study brought out many facts common to several of these leaders. An analysis of the contributions and the educational vitae of these medical people seemed to support the first two hypotheses and partially tended to support, in some cases only, the third hypothesis.

Document Type


Level of Degree


Department Name

Health, Exercise, and Sports Sciences

First Committee Member (Chair)

Armond Seidler

Second Committee Member

Harold Kenney

Third Committee Member

Alvin Howard

Fourth Committee Member

David H. Hunt