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Women's Playing Fields and Field House

The Women's 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 higher education.

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.

 

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