Luther Halsey Gulick


"One of the most remarkable personalities to leave an
imprint upon YMCA physical education was Luther Gulick"
(Johnson, 1979, 55). Gulick, whose parents were
missionaries, was born in Honolulu, Hawaii in 1865. For
fifteen years he traveled extensively because of his
background as a child of missionaries. Finally, in 1880, he
was able to slow his travels and go to Oberlin College
until 1884. While at Oberlin, he suffered from headaches
caused by poor eyesight.Also during his stay at Oberlin, he
roomed with another prominent physical educator, Thomas
Wood who later made a name for himself at Stanford and
Columbia and encountered Dr. Delphine Hanna, who was a
leading pioneer in women's physical education. In the fall
of 1885, Gulick entered a middle preparatory class, but
also took some college classes to further his education.
Shortly after his stay at Oberlin, he went to Sargent
School of Physical Training in Cambridge, Massachusetts for
a period of six months. In April of 1886, he became the
physical director of the YMCA in Jackson, Michigan, but
later resigned to enter the Medical School of New York
University. Gulick managed to pursue his medical training
program and also perform his duties as an instructor at the
YMCA in Springfield, Massachusetts. In October 1887 Gulick
was employed by the International Committee on a part-time
basis to serve as the international secretary for physical
work. He held this position for thirteen years. Finally in
March of 1889, he completed his medical program. In the
same year, he was named the superintendent of the
Springfield YMCA. In May 1891 a paper read before the
secretariat at a convention in Kansas City, clearly stated
the role that physical education could play within the
framework of accepted theological procedure. Gulick said,
"Our physical education should be all around; have
reference to spiritual and mental growth; be educative and
progressive; give each man what he individually needs and
be interesting. Our distinctive methods are the leaders'
corps, the training class, and the relation of the physical
to the other departments of our work." (Johnson, 1979, 56).
In this same year, Gulick established a correspondence
course for physical directors. Gulick was influenced by Dr.
G. Stanley Hall, a leading psychologist of his time and of
Johns Hopkins University, to the ideals of unity and
symmetry. In Gulick's efforts to seek these ideals, he
tried to achieve harmony, order, and balance in the
elements of living. For the first time in his career, he
taught a course in the psychology of play for sports
psychology in 1899. While employed at Springfield, his
ideas of physical education were creative, progressive, and
experimental in its approach. Gulick was always quick in
doing things and always scurrying about testing new ideas
and theories and getting rid of those that he found
invalid. He believed that the purposes of physical
education were to be better served through the use of
competitive sports instead of body-building. In 1903, he
became the director of physical education in Greater New
York. During this time he was instumental in the
formulation of a philosophy of physical education. Towards
the end of his career, he was an advisor to the Spalding
Brothers Company, who made basketballs, a chairman of the
War Work Council of the International Committee of the
YMCA, and served as president for both the American
Physical Education Association and the Public School
Physical Training Society. In August of 1918 at summer camp
in South Casco, Maine, Luther Halsey Gulick died. His
untimely death cut short the career of one of America's
most original educators and social workers at a critical
point in his career. 

1. Gulick, Luther H. (1920). A Philosophy of Play. Charles
Scribner's Sons.
2. Johnson, Elmer L. (1979). The History of YMCA Physical
Education. Follet Publishing.

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