Instruction in physical education at Johns Hopkins began in 1882, when Edward M. Hartwell, a Hopkins Ph.D. in Physiology, was appointed Instructor in Physical Culture and Director of the Gymnasium. Undergraduates were required to attend a series of lectures on health, and to report to Hartwell occasionally "for physical examination and advice." Hartwell left Hopkins in 1890 to become Director of Physical Training in the Boston public schools, but this basic scheme continued under the next three gymnasium directors: John B. Crenshaw (1893-1899), Edward Renouf (acting director 1899-1903), and Charles R. MacInnes (1903-1905).
In 1905, Ronald T. Abercrombie was hired as Director of Physical Education, a post he was to hold, with some small variations in title, until 1941. Abercrombie instituted a prescribed gymnasium course, which included "a few lectures in hygiene" and was required of all freshmen. In 1916 the Gymnasium Department was formally organized, responsible for physical training, hygiene, athletics, and the University's newly-formed Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) battalion. Students were required to elect either physical or military training for their first two years, although credit was allowed for participation in organized sports. Because the University had moved to Homewood, which had no gymnasium, the hygiene lectures were expanded to occupy the winter months. In 1917 the Department of Military Science and Tactics separated from the Gymnasium, although students were still allowed to substitute military for physical training.
In 1921 the department changed its name, becoming the Department of Physical Education, and in 1924 the required sophomore physical training class was abandoned in favor of mandatory participation in student athletics. Concerned with what he perceived to be a trend towards professionalism and commercialism in college sports, Abercrombie, in his 1931 report to the president, described a new "athletics for all" program. The department began to implement the program in 1934, the year a gymnasium was finally constructed at Homewood.
In 1934, Ray Van Orman, a football coach whom the University had hired away from Cornell, was released, and G. Wilson Shaffer, a professor of psychology, was named as the new Director of Athletics. Although the University had planned on dropping football entirely, it was retained due to student interest, and five new intercollegiate sports (soccer, wrestling, fencing, handball and golf) were added. A vastly expanded intramural program was created, in which over 85 percent of the undergraduate student body participated. In view of the success of this program, the second year of the physical education requirement was dropped. Finally, in 1937, the last and most ambitious step was taken. The University announced that it would stop charging admission to all athletic events, and that it would neither accept nor pay guarantees of gate receipts. Henceforth the Department of Physical Education, like all of the other departments, would be funded out of general University revenues.
Abercrombie resigned in 1941, after 37 years of service, and was succeeded by G. Wilson Shaffer as Director of Physical Education. At the same time the department was renamed, becoming the Department of Health and Physical Education. In the Spring of 1942, the University instituted a four hour per week physical education requirement for all students, "in view of the increased physical demands that must be made on young men living in a war culture."
After the Second World War, this program was abolished, and the department instituted a new skills-based curriculum. At the beginning of the freshman year, students were to be given tests in five areas: combatives, aquatics, team games, individual sports, and gymnastics. They were then required only to take classes in those areas where they failed the test. Due to the lack of a pool on campus, the aquatics portion of the curriculum was never implemented. Simultaneously, the department began to offer a number of courses in the theory and practice of physical education, and even developed a major. The major only lasted two years however, and the courses in teaching physical education were abolished in 1950, due to lack of interest.
In 1947 the department gave up its responsibility for the overall health of the students, as a Student Health Service was established, and a full-time clinic opened on campus. Thus, when Shaffer resigned in 1948 to become Dean of Homewood Schools, the name of the department was changed to Department of Physical Education and Athletics. Under his successor, William F. Logan, students were once again required to take a physical education course their freshman year, although students who would previously have been given credit by exam, were allowed to fulfill the requirement through participation in athletics. Logan resigned the chairmanship in 1950, in order to devote all of his time to his duties as director of admissions, and Marshall S. Turner became head of the department.
In 1965 the University built a new gym, the Newton H. White Athletic Center, ending years of complaints about inadequate facilities, and finally giving the swim team a pool on campus. In 1970 two major changes occurred, the first since the "athletics for all" was begun in the 1930s. First, the University began charging admission to football, basketball, and lacrosse games, although the money was to be included in the University's general revenue, and not to be given directly to the athletic department. The University also abolished the required freshman physical education class, ending a requirement that had stood for almost 90 years.
The department continued to run Hopkins's intercollegiate and intramural athletic programs though, as well as offering many non-credit physical education classes each semester. Marshall Turner resigned in 1973, and was succeeded by Robert Scott, the University's lacrosse coach.
For a more detailed history, especially of the University's sports teams and experiment in non-commercial athletics, see G. Wilson Shaffer, Recreation and Athletics at Johns Hopkins: A One-Hundred-Year History (The Johns Hopkins University, 1977), copies of which are available for use in the Archives.