Luther Gulick

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Luther Halsey Gulick

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Luther Halsey Gulick was born on December 4, 1865 in Honolulu, Hawaii. He was the fifth of seven children of Congregationalist missionaries, Luther Halsey Gulick and Louisa Lewis Gulick. Luther spend the first fifteen years of his life abroad in Hawaii, Italy, Japan, and Spain.

Upon return to the United States in 1880, he enrolled in the preparatory department of Oberlin College until 1882. He enrolled at the Medical College in the City University of New York where he was awarded an M.D, in 1889. He married Charlotte Emily Vetter on August 30, 1887. Together they had six children, Louise, Frances, Charlotte, Katharine, Luther, and John Halsey.

Throughout his life and career, Luther Halsey Gulick was greatly interested in physical education and hygiene. While pursuing his medical degree between 1886 and 1889, he began his career as the physical director of the Jackson, Michigan YMCA in 1886. In 1887, Gulick became head of the gymnasium department of the Young Men's Christian Education's Springfield Training School. In 1891, he assigned one of his students a set of rules to design a game around. The student was James Naismith. The game became known as basketball. He continued at Springfield until 1903. While serving as head of the gymnasium department at Springfield, he also served as international secretary for the physical training department of the YMCA. In addition, he was secretary of the American Association for the Advancement of Physical Education from 1892 to 1893.

Luther Halsey Gulick In 1903, Gulick became the first director of physical education in the public schools of New York City with a staff of 36 – the largest of any city in the United States. Gulick also chaired the Physical Training Lecture Committee of the St. Louis exposition in 1904; he initiated the Public School Physical Education Society in the same year at the St. Louis Exposition; and founded the more informal Academy of Physical Education in 1905 in New York. In 1910, he was among the founders of the Boy Scouts of America.

Gulick also was among the founders and first presidents of several associations dedicated to physical education, such as the American Physical Education Association (president, 1903-1906), the Public School Training Society (president, 1905-1908), he helped to organize American School Hygiene Association in 1907, and the Playground and Recreation Society of America (president, 1906-1908).

Gulick was a member of the organizing committee of the Boy Scouts of America. In 1905, a number of prominent women approached Gulick to help form a Girls' Branch. This Girls' Branch instituted folk dancing for girls. Gulick himself hoped that such a program would instill the girls with an appreciation for different ethnic traditions (although the majority of the dances used were Swedish) and create a sense of a larger, common sense of an American identity. The book that resulted from this work, The Healthful Art of Dancing (1910) was used into the mid-30s as reference work by dance teachers.

His publishing record is equally as impressive. He edited the Gulick Hygiene Series of books related to subjects he was interested in; edited Physical Education, 1891-1896, Association Outlook, 1897-1900; and the American Physical Education Review, 1901-1903. He wrote Physical Measurements and How They Are Used (1889); Physical Education by Muscular Exercise (1904); The Efficient Life (1907); Mind and Work (1908); The Healthful Art of Dancing (1910); Playground book; The Dynamics of Manhood (1918); and Medical Inspection of Schools (1907), written with Leonard Ayres.

Beginning in 1923 and continuing to this day, the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAHPERD) annually awards the Luther Halsey Gulick Medal, as its highest honor to a distinguished leader in any one of the alliance's fields of activity – a strong sign of Gulick's widespread influence on a number of fields in physical education and recreation.

Gulick died at age 53 on August 13, 1918 in South Casco, Maine, at his camp at lake Sebago.


From an article by Thomas Winter, assistant professor in American culture and literature at Bilkent University, Anakara, Turkey.