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Physical Education for Women: Home

Teaching with digital objects from Special Collections


For this class, we will be learning about the history of the Physical Education for Women Department at the University of Iowa. We will pay special attention to historic gender norms and historic notions of heath - remember, both topics are social constrictions that have changed over time.

We will utilize the University of Iowa Physical Education for Women digital collection from the Special Collections and Archives department of the Libraries. This digital collection has over 900 historic photographs and 75 films, circa 1900-1980, documenting the Department of Physical Education for Women at the University of Iowa, a pioneer in the development of graduate study, professional training, and athletic opportunities for women.

Before class

Watch "Posture for Poise, 1955" created by the Department of Visual Instruction, State University of Iowa. 

Take notes on what strikes you as interesting.

What is considered "good" posture during this time? What reasons are presented for maintaining good posture? 

Here is a worksheet from the Library of Congress that has some analysis questions that could help you format your notes: Analyzing Motion Pictures 

In class activity

In groups, look at images from the University of Iowa Physical Education for Women digital collection (see gallery of images below). Interpret these photos with your group, using the provided questions as a guide; we will have a class discussion after you have examined all the images.  


- What are your initial thoughts and impressions of these images?

- How are your interpretations influenced by the titles and dates of the images?

- How are these images similar or different from images of sports/ physical education you have might see today?

- What insights into physical education of the past do these images provide?

- What is missing from these records? What is not captured or recorded?  

- What do you wish you could know about the events or people in these images?

- How do these images show how physical education has changed over time?

- Compare what we interpreted from the video with what we can interpret from the images.


This virtual instruction guide was created by Kathryn Reuter, Academic Outreach Coordinator - Special Collections & Archives (