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Edifying the body through the decades
Online photo gallery showcases history of physical education at Berkeley

Diver at Hearst Pool  Physical education at Berkeley: Slide show

| 27 October 2004

Fitness-minded Cal students circa 2004 have an embarrassment of riches at their disposal: swimming pools, gyms, playing fields and courts, cardio and weight-training equipment, intramural sports, for-credit physical-education courses, and fitness classes in 101 flavors, from Pilates and tai chi to kickboxing and “stepography.”

Today’s ways to sweat, stretch, and stimulate endorphins have a past, of course. Before Cybex equipment there were Stall bars and pulley weights; before “culture shock hip-hop” classes, instruction in folk and “aesthetic” dance; long before Walter Haas, Jr. Pavilion, the handsome wooden Harmon Gymnasium, built in 1879, and a women’s gym and social center, Hearst Hall, which was constructed in 1899 and burned down in 1922.

Physical education at Berkeley now has a virtual home as well (pe.berkeley.edu/history), where its decades of history are documented in few words and many intriguing photographs. The site was designed and constructed by Richard Pereira Rossi in the Physical Education Program. Based in Hearst Gym-nasium, the program is a descendant of the Department of Physical Culture (later renamed the Department of Physical Education), which offered its first classes for men in 1888 and for women in the early 1890s and eventually offered a doctoral degree, as well as a bachelor’s and master’s. At the time the department was disestablished, in 1997, it was the oldest continuous physical-education major program in the United States.

“My colleagues before me have kept all sorts of old documents and photographs, going back more than 80 years,” says Roberta Park, professor emeritus of integrative biology, who taught physical education classes at Cal for four decades, starting in 1959. Park has researched and written extensively on the history of physical education in the United States and the singular contributions of UC Berkeley — which in the 1960s, she says, was at the forefront of a “paradigm shift” that brought biological, social, and psychological research into physical-education programs.

Park, now retired, has been organizing the “wonderful stuff” in the program’s archives for transfer to the Library’s University Archives, and has written narrative highlights for the new website — a sampling of whose photographs are shown here.