Skip to main content

Swarthmore College Physical Education and Athletics Department records

Identifier: SFHL-RG6-I001

Scope and Contents

This collection is organized into four series: I. Departmental records, II. Women's athletics, III. Men's athletics, and IV. Athletics Communications Office. "Series I. Departmental records" includes memos, schedules, a scrapbook, and reports on the Physical Education Department and Athletics at Swarthmore, including responses from the department. "Series II. Women's athletics" includes women's physical education logs from the 1920s, scorebooks from women's sports games in the 1950s-1960s, and programs, clippings, and score sheets for individual sports from the 1940s to the 1970s. The annual P.E. logs include information about both varsity sports and P.E. class, with lists of students playing in most games. Swarthmore women in 1920s played (field) hockey, basketball, track, gym, swimming, volleyball, archery, tennis, and other sports. "Series III. Men's athletics" has statistics of men's sports games scores in the late 1960s to 1970s, with lists of varsity and junior varsity team members; as well as programs, clippings, and score sheets for individual sports from the 1950s to the 1980s. "Series IV. Athletics Communications Office" has sports news releases and accompanying notes, programs, and documentation, from 1964 to 1974.


  • Creation: 1921 - 1996


Limitations on Accessing the Collection

Collection is open for research.

Copyright and Rights Information

All requests for permission to publish or quote from manuscripts must be submitted in to the Director. Permission for publication is given on behalf of Friends Historical Library as the owner of the physical items and is not intended to include or imply permission of the copyright holder, which must also be obtained by reader.

Biographical / Historical

Some structured exercise program, physical education or "physical culture," has always been required of Swarthmore students as a condition of enrollment or graduation, from its earliest years into the 21st century.

Swarthmore College formed a Department of Physical Culture in 1888, but athletics on campus predate the department. The first athletic activities at the College took place during the 1870s in an era in which athletic activities and physical fitness were becoming more popular in American society in general and at colleges in particular. Records indicate that a baseball game was played on campus in 1875 and that the Swarthmore football squad played its first game in 1878, against the University of Pennsylvania.

In 1877, Swarthmore College Athletic Association (SCAA), a student organization that held various administrative responsibilities relating to men's athletics, was founded. In addition to organizing an annual track and field competition between class years, SCAA managed funds and maintained records for men's sports teams, worked with the Athletic Advisory Committee and Athletic Committee to establish eligibility rules, and performed various other duties. A parallel organization for women, the the Girls' Athletic Clubs (formalized and renamed the Women's Athletic Association in 1904), was organized in 1898. An organization of the managers of the men’s athletic teams at Swarthmore College, the Society of KWINK, was organized in 1916 and remained active until the mid 1960s; managers of women's athletic teams joined a parallel group, GWIMP.

During the late 19th and early 20th century, the "Little Quakers" teams of Swarthmore College often fared exceptionally well. Swarthmore fielded several squads for intercollegiate competition from a pool of less than 100 male students, yet managed to compete against much larger institutions. These included the University of Pennsylvania, Penn State, Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, Rutgers, Yale, and Michigan, all members in the Intercollegiate Athletic Association (ICAA) in which Swarthmore competed. The football team also competed against Army, Navy, and the University of North Carolina. Swarthmore was a major contender for many years in the track competition now known as the Penn Relays. The lacrosse team won two national titles and one North American championship in the first decade of the 20th century. A strong rivalry began between Swarthmore and Haverford Colleges as early as the 1870s and matches between the football teams of these two institutions were especially anticipated and well attended. From the beginning, however, the violence and "unfriendly fervor" of this rivalry elicited the indignation of influential Quaker circles at Swarthmore and Haverford. Swarthmore College football was dropped for the 1908 season for these reasons, and meetings between the Haverford and Swarthmore teams were suspended from 1927 to 1941.

The former and latter incidents, however, took place in two very different eras. Under President Frank Aydelotte (1921-1940), the athletic program, like virtually every aspect of the College, underwent a substantial shift in direction. As early as the mid-1910s, during his tenure at Indiana University, Aydelotte published essays addressing what he saw as an unhealthy professional and commercial influence on college athletics. During his presidency at Swarthmore, he strove to establish a thoroughly amateur athletic program. His actions anticipated a growing movement among the presidents of small colleges to resolve the problems of professionalism and to integrate athletics as one facet of a broader liberal arts experience. This was part of an effort to maintain and intensify the new standards of intellectual rigor and academic excellence at the College and to insure the ideal of athletics for all, not just the very best.

In pursuit of these ideals, Aydelotte carried out significant reforms, many of which were designed to reduce the influence of the alumni. The College assumed full financial responsibility for athletics in 1932 which meant that the most important coaches became full-time faculty in the Department of Physical Education and their salaries paid entirely by the College. All male students, rather than just athletes and managers of the intercollegiate teams, were automatically members of the Athletic Association upon matriculation to the College. Admission to athletic competitions was now free for students and faculty, and prices for the general public were reduced to a nominal fee and limited to the most important games. More power was assigned to Dr. Samuel Palmer, who was the Graduate Manager (later Athletic Director) of sports at Swarthmore from 1909 to 1942. The Society of KWINK, a club for the assistant managers of the athletic teams, also took on many responsibilities that the Athletic Association had handled in the past, such as the general promotion of athletics among the student body and relations with teams from other colleges.

By 1937, it was determined that athletics could financially no longer support themselves. This marked a complete departure from the nature of athletics at the time of the Athletic Association's founding, when the administration played a minimal role in the athletics program and when insuring the financial foundation of Swarthmore sports was one of the most important responsibilities of the organization. Although the circumstances of the 1930s may have diminished the importance of the Athletic Association, it was the Second World War which brought the official end to the SCAA. Compared to many other small colleges, men's sports did survive at Swarthmore during the war, but they would emerge in the post-war period with an altered administrative structure that did not include an Athletic Association.

In 2000, the Swarthmore College Board of Managers made a controversial decision to end the football program at Swarthmore, citing a need to focus more on academics and less on athletics, and pointing out that resources (especially admissions spots) redirected from the football team could enrich other teams on campus. As of 2015, 40 percent of Swarthmore's student body participates in varsity, club and intramural sports. The college has 22 varsity teams, seven chartered club teams, and 16 full-time head coaches.


1.67 Linear Feet




Some structured exercise program, physical education or "physical culture," has always been required of Swarthmore students as a condition of enrollment or graduation, from its earliest years into the 21st century. In 1888 Swarthmore College formed a Department of Physical Culture, now known as the Physical Education Department. The Swarthmore College Physical Education and Athletics Department records, 1921-1996, includes reports on the department, sports news releases, and other departmental-wide records; women's physical education logs and scorebooks from women's sports games; men's sports statistics; and programs, clippings, and score sheets from sports played by both genders.

Physical Location

For current information on the location of materials, please consult the Library's online catalog.

Related Materials

Swarthmore College Archives, College Publications: Events and announcements, RG 6/A, Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College

Swarthmore College Archives, Swarthmore College Dance Program records, 1984-2002, RG 6/J02, Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College

Swarthmore College Archives, Swarthmore College Athletic Association Records, RG6/Q015, Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College

Swarthmore College Archives, KWINK Minutes, 1951-1960, RG6/Q-022, Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College

The Swarthmore College Athletics Communications Office maintains historical materials relating to athletics at the College, including: photographs of teams and athletic events, circa 1930s to the present; pamphlets and publications; and yearly summaries of the Athletics Department, 1941 to present, consisting of meeting minutes, rosters, scores, statistics, and other information. Contact the Athletics Communications Office to request access.

FHL staff
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note

Find It at the Library

Most of the materials in this catalog are not digitized and can only be accessed in person. Please see our website for more information about visiting or requesting reproductions from Friends Historical Library of Swarthmore College Library

500 College Avenue
Swarthmore Pennsylvania 19081 USA