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Otto Tod Mallery

1880 - 1956

Inducted October 1991

 "The ultimate strength of the National Recreation Association lies in the devotion and civic spirit of thousands of lay men and women on boards, committees, and foundations who steadily hold the line and keep advancing it."
~Otto T. Mallery

Born in Willets Point, NY, in 1881, Otto Tod Mallery graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from Princeton University in 1902 and pursued graduate studies at the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University. Known as an economist and gentleman, he devoted himself to the advancement of recreation in Philadelphia, throughout the United States, and the world. Mallery experienced great joy and value from participating in recreation and strived to extend opportunities for others to enjoy similar experiences. Among his favorite pastimes were painting, dancing, and playing the bass violin in his family’s chamber music ensemble.

Mallery, a citizen volunteer, was a guiding founder and charter member of the Philadelphia Playground Association, formed in 1907. Philadelphia is distinguished for having one of the nation’s oldest private recreation agencies. Mallery chaired many of the Association’s committees and served as treasurer from 1910 to 1925, when he was elected president. One of Mallery’s early attempts to promote public recreation in Philadelphia was in 1909 when he persuaded the mayor to appoint a Public Playgrounds Commission. Their focus was to examine the local recreation facilities and recommend the best utilization to service the community. Within the Commission, an official Playgrounds Committee was authorized to develop and manage the local municipal playgrounds and recreation centers. The Committee was soon superseded by a Board of Recreation with broader functions, where Mallery was named one of the original board members and served as secretary from 1912 to 1915.

In 1918 after the supervisor of recreation resigned, Philadelphia’s Mayor, Thomas B. Smith, wished to reward Eduard R. Gudehus with the position for helping him politically. He ordered the Civil Service Commission to reissue the announcement for the supervisor’s examination and to eliminate the experience qualifications originally established by the board of Recreation. Mayor Smith threatened board members with expulsion if they objected. Several refused and they were immediately dismissed from their positions. Upon reappointment of the board, Gudehus was elected the new supervisor of recreation. Mallery made a thorough report of the incident and a detailed deposition calling for the arrest of the mayor for committing the crime of misbehavior and misdemeanor in office. Mallery’s efforts were widely praised as a courageous civic action, however failed to have mayor Smith arrested or removed from office and the new board remained intact.

1927 began a period of originating new services and expansion of the Playgrounds Association. Succeeding years marked the broadening of programs and services, including art appreciation programs, costumed storytellers, the first “totlot” playgrounds, indoor playhouses, safe-coasting hills, use of city squares as playgrounds, learn-to-swim campaigns, city-wide music festivals, and institutes to train recreation leaders. This type of expansion continued through Mallery’s long service, and each year further plans enabled an increasing number of local citizens to participate in a wider range of creative and cultural activities. Advances in the 1940’s, aside from war emergency programs, included the playlot movement inaugurated in cooperation with Federal and Municipal Government Agencies, development of youth councils, recreation for older adults, and a conference of local recreation agencies on “Recreation, a Community Responsibility.”

Letter to the editor on the reorganization of the Philadelphia Board of Recreation.
The Playground, November 1918

The name of the Association was changed in 1946 to the Philadelphia Recreation Association. The original charter was amended and functions changed from that of an operational agency to that of a recreational/promotional agency “to further the expansion and improvement of public recreation” and “to manage, direct, and/or operate any recreation projects for the benefit of the public.” Two years later, Mallery retired as the Association’s president. Upon his departure, the Association distinguished his 40 years of leadership and service by honoring him with Chairman Emeritus status.

Mallery’s interests were not limited to the city of Philadelphia. Soon after the Playground Association of America was founded in 1906, he played an active role. Mallery served four years on its council, was elected to its board in 1912, and was a member the rest of his life, serving as chairman during his last six years. At the Outdoor Recreation Conference in 1924 his paper on city parks and playgrounds, in which he stressed the need to support primary recreation needs, influenced the Conference to adopt resolution favorable to community recreation and the training of recreation leaders. Mallery’s exceptional interest in the National Recreation Congress, was helpful in the preparation of Congress programs, he seldom failed to attend, and frequently served as chairman at general sessions. Few delegates enjoyed more thoroughly its play sessions and informal group activities. He was a great believer in the role of the layman in the recreation movement.

International understanding and world peace were other causes, which Mallery supported actively. He realized that recreation was useful in attaining them. At the time the Near East Relief organization was most active, he urged them to make greater provisions for play leaders. The encouragement and assistance offered to several countries by the National Recreation Association in their efforts to establish recreation programs resulted in part from Mallery’s generosity. One of the prime movers in the formation of the International Recreation Association, Mallery was a charter member of its Board of Directors.

Mallery was an outstanding layman and volunteer, he exemplified the recreation spirit, giving his time, energy, skill, and personal wealth to promote the recreation movement. At the time of his death at age 75, he was Chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Recreation Association, a Chairman Emeritus of the Philadelphia Recreation Association, and a member of the Board of the International Recreation Association. Among his most fitting tributes, Philadelphia recognized his contributions in 1956, naming one of the city’s finest playgrounds in his honor and hailing him the “Father of Recreation in Philadelphia.”

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.
  • National Recreation Association (August 1944). Otto Mallery, Recreation. 267.
  • National Recreation Association (August 1948). Father of Philadelphia recreation, Recreation. 223.
  • National Recreation Association (January 1957). Otto Tod Mallery, Recreation. 4.
  • Playground Association of America (November 1918). Courageous stand of Otto T. Mallery in Philadelphia. The Playground. 339-346.

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