Gulick, Luther (1865–1918)

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Gulick, Luther (18651918)

Luther Halsey Gulick was a leader in the promotion of the social and health benefits of play and physical education during the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Born in Hawaii to missionaries Luther Halsey Gulick and Louisa Lewis Gulick, Gulick spent much of his youth in mission fields in Europe and Asia. He attended Oberlin College and New York University's medical school, where he graduated with an M.D. in 1889. He married Charlotte Vetter in 1887, and they were the parents of six children.

Until 1900, Gulick worked for the International Young Men's Christian Association College, then known as the School for Christian Workers, in Springfield, Massachusetts. After receiving his medical degree, he became head of its Gymnasium Department; he was also secretary for the Physical Education Department of the International Committee of the YMCA.

Gulick's combined interest in evangelical Christianity and recreation led him to promote "muscular Christianity," a concept that aligned physical and spiritual strength. He remained associated with the YMCA even as he moved to other institutions, returning in 1918 to assist with war work. One of Gulick's students at the YMCA Training School, James Naismith, invented basketball in 1891 in response to an assignment by Gulick to develop a team sport; Gulick worked with Naismith to develop the game's rules further.

Some of Gulick's work was done through traditional education institutions. He worked for a time as a teacher and as principal of Pratt High School in Brooklyn from 1900 to 1903 and served as Director of Physical Education for the New York City schools from 1903 to 1907. In 1903, he helped develop the Public School Athletic League, independent from the Board of Education, to give proper supervision to youth athletics. The Girls' Branch of the League focused particularly on folk dancing. In 1916, Gulick was instrumental in founding the American Folk Dance Society. In 1906, he helped to organize the Playground Association of America and served as its first president until 1910. The Russell Sage Foundation also initiated its work in the field of recreation by hiring him to chair its Playground Extension Committee, a position he held until 1913.

Gulick also helped to found the Boy Scouts of America in 1910. In 1911, Gulick and his wife joined with others to organize the Camp Fire Girls, a female counterpart to the Boy Scouts intended to prepare girls for future feminine roles. (Gulick had worked with his wife before: Charlotte Gulick's interest in child-study prompted him to lead the Springfield, Massachusetts Mothers' Club from 1898 to 1900.) Gulick became Camp Fire's president when it was incorporated in 1914, serving until shortly before his death in 1918.

Gulick headed the Russell Sage Foundation's Department of Child Hygiene and helped to promote school medical inspections. He was a founding member of the American School Hygiene Association in 1906. Throughout his career, Gulick wrote extensively, publishing numerous articles (some later gathered into books) to publicize his views on recreation and hygiene.

See also: Sports; Youth Ministries; YWCA and YMCA.


Dorgan, Ethel Josephine. 1934. Luther Halsey Gulick, 18651918. New York: Teachers College.

Cavallo, Dominick. 1981. Muscles and Morals: Organized Playgrounds and Urban Reform, 18801920. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.

Ellen L. Berg

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Gulick, Luther (1865–1918)

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