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