What did College Students Study in 1915?

Physical Culture Class similar to PE today

Here’s something different – a lighter read, a tidbit of educational history, a visual, that also gives us a glimpse into the educational ‘identity’ of a college student in 1915.  I’ve been sorting through family documents that I acquired recently. I stumbled upon a gem, the college schedule of my great-aunt dated September, 1915. My great-aunt, Margaret Kastner, apparently attended St. Margaret’s College of Toronto, Canada if we use her schedule as evidence. St. Margaret’s College no longer exists from what I can tell, but I did find the school referenced in various archived documents. It appears to have been a Liberal Arts College for women. I included a few  articles at the end of this post that reference previous students from St. Margaret’s College (one was Amelia Earhart’s sister, Muriel).

What did a College Student Study in 1915?
Below is Aunt Margaret’s (ironically the same name as the college) schedule. It’s a full schedule, no sleeping in; classes began each day at 9:15, and though she had a break mid-day she finished at 6:00 pm. The scanned image of Margaret’s schedule is further down the page, though I’ve listed the subjects as outlined by her hand on her schedule  below for ease of reading.

Subjects Studied by Margaret Kastner as a Junior College Student

  • Chaucer
  • French
  • Canadian History
  • Grammar and Composition
  • Piano
  • Arithmetic
  • Scripture
  • Sewing (once per week for two hours)
  • Physical Culture (one half-hour, four times per week from 5:30 to 6:00 pm).

Physical culture was the term used for a form of physical education, the term that we are more familiar with today. Physical culture was a movement that arose in 19th century due to the perception that the middle and upper classes were becoming sedentary and suffering from ‘diseases of affluence’. The physical culture class would have consisted of light gymnastics both with and without dumb-bells, dance and folk games. It wasn’t until the mid-20th century that physical culture became known as physical education in English-speaking countries. I found a picture of physical culture class from the University of Northern Iowa shown at the beginning of the post. The image was dated just a few years prior to my great-aunt taking physical culture classes at St. Margaret’s, which leads me to believe that it would have been similar.

As someone involved in education, I found this schedule quite interesting, a snapshot into one student’s study plan for a year of college. If we looked at an average college student’s schedule today [granted it would be different given the selection of courses available and other influences] I wonder if we’d see a robust selection of liberal arts courses in his or her course of study?  Is there a correlation that students today are struggling with analysis and writing given the decline of liberal arts curriculum?  This topic is complex, yet there is something to be said for the value of a liberal arts education, for what it teaches, how it enriches and what it contributes to society.

References to St. Margaret’s College in Toronto
Canadian Women Artists History initiative, Canadian artist Vaughan Grayson went to St. Margaret’s College
Biographies of Women Mathematicians, Louse Duffield Cummings, Instructor at St. Margaret’s College
Amelia Earhart Papers, Amelia’s sister Muriel went to St. Margaret’s College in Toronto in 1916 – unknown

Photo credit: Physical Culture Class, University of Northern Iowa, Rod Library

3 thoughts on “What did College Students Study in 1915?

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