Playing Fields and Field House: "We say 'Hands off!" and we mean just
what we say.
In recent years much
attention has been directed to the expansion of the college's "East
campus," the series of buildings and playing fields constructed within
the last ten years east of 13th Street. This expansion, however, is
simply the continuation of an expansion east of 13th Street that began
75 years ago with the construction of the Women's Playing Fields and
Field House, the culmination of a dramatic two-decade expansion in the
role of athletics for women at Coe.
At the turn of the century,
after Coe had been in existence for twenty years, there were virtually
no athletic opportunities for women at the college. By 1925, the
college had two full-time faculty in the Women's Physical Education
Department and a diverse set of competitive and non-competitive events
for all female students in all seasons. Women could participate in
hiking, field hockey, tennis, "baseball," "aesthetic dancing"
(important in preparing for the department's two major events of the
year: the Colonial Ball and the May Pageant), basketball, and swimming.
A fitting testimony to the
growth of women's athletics at Coe was the dedication on November 21,
1925 of the field house and a fully-equipped athletic field for the
exclusive use of women. Participating in the dedication were the four
women responsible for the creation of this athletic program: Charlotte
Poyneer (the college's first director of women's athletics), Mabel
Lee (Coe grad in 1904 and the program's second director),
Ethel Ryan (Mabel Lee's successor) and Alva Toff (a 1918 Coe grad who
became Ryan's assistant director).
The November 30, 1925 issue
of the Courier describes the field house--Iocated at the corner of C
Avenue and 14th Street--as a "fawn-colored" rustic one-story building,
75 by 45 feet, with greenblue doors and window-sashes. "Sodded terraces
and walks of rustic Bedford stone surround the building." Inside the
field house were two small rooms (an office/conference room and a
locker room) and one large hall, 60 feet long and the full width of the
building. The room had a large open fireplace at the one end (though
the building also had heat supplied by two furnaces in the basement).
The "rustic" appearance of the outside was retained in the interior: a
floor of exposed trusses and beams finished in an "English weathered
style," old English ornamental hinges and latches, and windows of "maze
glass" that gave the interior an amber glow.
The athletic field replaced
a tract of land that had previously been a "dump heap with a stagnant
pool in the center." This four-acre tract was the result of a decision
by the Trustees to pay $15,000 for several lots, combined with 32,000
square feet of land freely contributed by the city. When the work was
completed, the complex included ten playing-fields: two hockey fields,
five clay tennis courts, two basketball courts, and a baseball diamond
with "the correct dimensions for women players."
At the dedication ceremony,
President Gage stated that this gift from the Trustees and Alumni gave
Coe the distinction of being "the first coeducational liberal arts
college in the country to provide for its women students a separate
athletic field and field house for their exclusive use." Although
President Gage certainly played an important role in ensuring the
completion of this athletic complex, there is little doubt that the
person who cast the longest shadow on this day was Mabel
Lee, who had left Coe to become Director of Physical
Education for Women at the University of Nebraska. Lee used the
dedicatory ceremony to argue vigorously for a few basic principles
concerning women's athletics. She asserted that women must assume
primary responsibility for managing their own athletic programs.
We propose to have athletics
for American women, but we propose to have them controlled by women,
coached by women, chaperoned by women, officiated by women, trained by
women, protected by women physicians and we say to those men of America
who are not concerned with ideals, men who would like to commercialize
this growing force, who seek notoriety through women's athletics, we
say 'Hands om' and we mean just what we say.
Lee concluded her address
by urging women's athletics to focus on healthful recreation and play
while avoiding an emphasis on intercollegiate competitions that was
already creating so many problems for physical education programs in
May the play spirit be kept
alive in our college women. May this fine new equipment mean that every
girl who enters Coe College will learn some recreational activities
which she may carry through to adult life. . . . May you always use
your influence to discourage direct control of women's athletics by
men, to discourage interschool competition for girls, and to encourage
play for play's sake and healthful recreation for all.