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Henry S. Curtis

1870 - 1954

Inducted October 1989

 "The greatest need of American life is some common meeting ground for the people where business might be forgotten, friendships formed, and cooperatons established."
~Henry S. Curtis

Born on a farm in Olivert, MI, Henry Stoddard Curtis attended a local college briefl y and went on to graduate from Yale University. In 1898, he received a Ph.D. degree from Clark University in Worcester, MA. At Clark University he studied play activities under the direction of Granville Stanley Hall1. After graduation he was appointed director of child studies in the New York City schools and later served as director of school playgrounds. While in New York City, Curtis and Luther Gulick held several meetings to discuss the need for a training course for playground workers. The idea was eventually dismissed with hopes of eventually establishing a national playground association.

In February 1906, Curtis became supervisor of playgrounds in Washington, D.C. He developed the first city-wide plan for recreation areas and was a strong advocate for its comprehensive planning. On April 10-15, 1906, he organized the initial meeting, in Washington D.C., which established the Playground Association of America (PAA). Curtis was the Association’s first secretary and assistant treasurer, positions he held until 1909. He is also credited for writing the original constitution of the Association.

Organizers of the Playground Association of America: Beulah Kennard (top left), Dr. George Kober, Commissioner, H. B.F. Macfarland, Walter Hatch, Ellen Spencer Mussey, Charles Weller, Myron T. Scudder, Marie Hofer, Mary McDowell, Amelia Hofer, Dr. Luther H. Gulick, Archibald Hill, Seth T. Steward, Mrs. Samuel Ammon, Sadie American, Dr. Henry S. Curtis (front center), and Dr. Rebecca Stoneroad.
Recreation, Golden Anniversary Issue, June 1956.

Curtis played a key role in gaining the public’s support and interest in the PAA. He was in charge of organizing their annual congress and publishing its proceedings. At the Jamestown Virginia Congress in 1907, Curtis structured an exhibit in the form of a children’s playground. In cooperation with the local schools, programmed play activities were provided. This exhibit, paid for by the Russell Sage Foundation2, gave thousands of Americans their first view of structured play programs in a playground setting.

Henry Curtis will perhaps be best remembered for his publications for he was a prolific writer during the early years of the recreation movement. He held an exceptional knowledge of the subject and was among the first to realize the importance of providing the recreation field with basic written material. His books Play and Recreation in the Open Country, Education Through Play, The Practical Conduct of Play, Recreation for Teachers, and The Play Movement and Its Significance were used as college texts and as practical guides for recreation leaders. His frequent contributions to The Playground were read primarily by individuals interested in the movement, but his articles in such journals as the Annuals of the American Society of Political and Social Science and Harper’s Monthly carried the recreation story to a wide public. His pamphlet, The School Grounds and Their Equipment, prepared for the Missouri Department of Education, had a wide distribution both inside and outside the state. In all, Curtis published over 90 publications in the recreation field.

Curtis retired in Ann Arbor, MI, where two projects occupied much of his time. One was the promotion of the Huron- Clinton Metropolitan District, which in 1960 comprised six properties with a total of 14,530 acres. He became one of the fi rst to realize the potential recreation value of the Huron and Clinton river valleys while conducting a survey for the University of Michigan. In 1937, Curtis was appointed executive secretary of the Huron-Clinton Parkway Committee, the chief sponsor of the project, which involved the acquisition of a chain of parks and connecting parkways.

Curtis also became an authority on aging issues and persistently supported proposals designed to make the quality of life more enhanced for the elderly. He recommended that large playgrounds have an area to provide leisure opportunities for older adults and suggested they accept some responsibility in assisting playground leaders with programming activities. In addition, he felt games between the elderly and children would rouse much support and interest. It was his intent to make life for the aging more content and meaningful.

Adapted from: Hartsoe, C, Sanders, D & Bridges, M (eds) (2009), Profiles in Leadership: Robert W. Crawford Recreation and Park Hall of Fame. National Recreation and Park Association and American Academy of Park and Recreation Administration.

  • Butler, G.D. (1965). Pioneers in public recreation. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing Company.
  • Hartsoe, C. (2007). Building better communities: The story of the National Recreation Association (1906- 1965). Champaign, IL: Sagamore Publishing.
  • Ibrahim, H. (1989). Pioneers in leisure and recreation. Reston, VA: American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance.

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