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Luther H. Gulick

1865 - 1918

Inducted October 1988

 "The individual is more completely revealed in play than in any other way and conversely, play has a greater shaping power over the character and nature of man than any activity."
~Luther H. Gulick

The son of a physician, Luther Halsey Gulick was born in Honolulu, HI. Due to his father’s missionary occupation, he traveled overseas to such countries as Spain, Italy, and Japan. Upon returning to the United States in 1880, Gulick studied at Oberlin Academy, Sargent School of Physical Training, and New York University, where he earned his Doctor of Medicine in 1889.

In the course of pursuing a medical degree, Gulick began his physical education career with the Jackson, MI, YMCA. During the summer of 1887 he headed the fi rst summer school of “Special Training for Gymnasium Instructors” at the Young Men’s Christian Education’s Training School, now Springfi eld College, where he taught for 13 years. Interested in the traits and qualities essential in physical activity and gaming, he challenged one of his students, James Naismith, to develop an indoor winter sport. The game became known as basketball and Gulick was inducted in 1959 to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame for his contributions to its early development. In addition to his academic position, he was secretary of the American Association for the Advancement of Physical Education from 1892 to 1893.

At the turn of the twentieth century, Luther Gulick was among the leading forces for several physical education associations. He was the president of the American Physical Education Association between 1903 and 1906, president of the Public School Training Society between 1905 and 1908, helped organize the American School Hygiene Association in 1907, and originated the concept for a national organization to provide leadership in the growing interest of play. The Playground Association of America was established in April 1906 and Luther Gulick was elected their first president. He served in this position from 1906 to 1908.

Under Gulick’s leadership, the Playground Association of America made amazing progress. According to Howard Braucher, “His personal qualities were such, his ability as a speaker, his vividness of description at private interviews, his unfailing enthusiasm, all were such that the new movement made a very great appeal to the country. He emphasized the value of publicity and of having the names and pictures of important people associated with the new movement.”

In the introduction to his book, A Philosophy of Play (1920), Gulick set forth three conclusions he had reached based on his study of play:

I. The individual is more completely revealed in play than in any other way; and conversely, play has a greater shaping power over the character and nature of man than has any one other activity.
II. A people most truly reveal themselves in the character of its pleasures.
III. The individual is more an agent in life than a directing force.

In 1914 Gulick and his wife, Charlotte Vetter Gulick, founded the Camp Fire Girls. They used their summer camps, Camp Timanous and Camp Wohelo, as models to test and develop programs and activities. Their goal was to promote physical fitness and education through recreational activities. Luther Gulick was named the Campfire Girls’ first president and served as its head and guiding spirit until his death in 1918.

Gulick had a significant impact in the early stages of the physical education and recreation movement. Known as one of the great innovators, Gulick was able to introduce new ideas with what was widely accepted, progressing both fields. Since 1923 the American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (AAPHERD) has annually awarded the Luther Halsey Gulick Medal as its highest honor to a distinguished leader in the Alliance’s fields.

Luther Gulick (center) is posing with students in 1890.
Springfield College, Babson Library, Archives and Special Collections

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.
  • Gulick, L.H. (1920). A philosophy of play. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons.
  • Ibrahim, H. (1989). Pioneers in leisure and recreation. Reston, VA: American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance.

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