Tidbits from the Archives: Women and Athletics

APRIL 2004
By Jeff Sauve, Associate Archivist
Center for College History

Prof. Judith Cederberg (Mathematics) recently donated several photos from her grandmother Wilda Nelson Ness’s student days, ca. 1910. Notice the equipment in the forefront. Physical education for women was slow to develop at St. Olaf College. During the 1880s, lawn games such as croquet were the norm. By 1910, women students were fielding a basketball team.

Early recollections are recorded in Elise Kittelsby Ytterboe’s memoirs [wife of Prof. H.T. Ytterboe]. She was a pioneer in the school’s development and one of the college’s most visible supporters. Her memoirs are rich in detail and understanding of an era beset with struggle and perseverance. Many have read her account of the James Gang and their attempted 1876 robbery in Northfield, but very few have read what she endured when the women students undertook a training class in physical education, ca. 1890:

“Having classrooms above one’s living rooms was not always what one could wish for. I remember one class especially, the girls’ training class in physical education, where they used dumbbells; very often a club would fall from inexperienced hands and the kerosene lamp, hanging from the ceiling, would almost jump out of its socket. That room being large and the best for the purpose, we had to make the best of it even though it woke up the baby and rocked the lamp.”

The Archives is fortunate to have Mrs. Ytterboe’s account, as well as the recent donation by Professor Cederberg. Please consider donating photos, student scrapbooks or other related material that would provide a deeper understanding of the college’s history.