Senda Berenson Abbott - Need For Physical Education For Women
Need for Physical Education for Women
One of five children, Senda Valvrojenski was born March 19, 1868, in Biturmansk, Lithuania. Her parents, Albert, a seller of pots and pans, and Julie Mieliszanki, were Jewish immigrants who arrived in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1875 when Senda was seven. In America, her family changed its name to Berenson.
A weak child, Berenson studied piano at the Boston Conservatory of Music and attended the Girls' Latin School in Boston. To improve her physical abilities, she enrolled in 1890 in the newly established women's teaching college, the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics. There, she studied physical education under Amy Morris Homans and the philanthropist Mary Hemenway. Hemenway had introduced Swedish gymnastics to Boston public schools in the 1880s. Soon Berenson developed strength and stamina.
In January, 1892, Berenson left the Boston Normal School for a position in Northampton, Massachusetts, at Smith College, becoming the first director of physical education at the all-women's institution. Not long after she arrived, she learned of a game called "basket ball" invented only one month earlier by James Naismith from the nearby International Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) Training School in Springfield, Massachusetts. Berenson read Naismith's article about the game in the YMCA publication Physical Education. Intrigued that the game could have potential for her students, she visited Naismith to learn more.
Back at Smith College, Berenson organized a trial game with the women using the same rules as the men. In March 1893, one year after basketball was invented, Berenson held the first collegiate game of women's basketball featuring teams from her freshmen and sophomore classes. Men were prohibited from watching the women play.
Although she recognized that the game provided a vigorous activity for women, Victorian propriety at the time would not allow women to behave so energetic and competitively. Newspaper articles commented on the loud and wild behavior of the women. In those days, women did not play team sports or participate in activities that allowed physical contact.