Like many Americans and sports fans around the world, I’ve been watching hours and hours of coverage of the Olympic Games in London, especially the marquee events in swimming and gymnastics. So, as the Olympics draw to a close this weekend, I thought it might be fun to see if we had any interesting Olympics or Olympic sport-related materials here in Special Collections. I started with a search for early works on gymnastics and found Gymnastics for Youth: or A Practical Guide to Healthful and Amusing Exercises for the Use of Schools. An Essay Toward the Necessary Improvement of Education, Chiefly As It Relates to the Body, an 1802 Philadelphia imprint of a German work translated into English by the early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft.
This work is largely about integrating physical activity in the education of youth and interprets the term “gymnastics” broadly, including some entertaining examples of exercises, including that gym class favorite: rope climbing. Thinking about the differences between historical forms of gymnastics and the modern gymnastics performed in the Olympics today, I was surprised to discover that rope climbing was an event in the modern Olympic games as late as 1932!
Rope climbing was, in fact, an event in the gymnastics program. However, the 1932 Olympics were the last time the event was held.
The programs also had wonderful pictures of the star athletes at the Los Angeles Games, including some of the “Aquatic Stars” of the day. The image below shows some of the female swimmers from around the world.
Enjoy the last weekend of the Olympics and if you miss your Olympics fix, stop up on the 3rd floor of King Library and see this Olympic blast from the past!
Special Collections Librarian