Academic Spaces: Blow Gym, Physical Education, and Gender Differences
Blow Gym and Physical Education
In the late 1960s and early 1970s at the College of William & Mary, physical education courses were a major part of the curriculum. When asked what activities were included in the physical education classes, the members of the Legacy 3 mainly reflected on the swim and tennis courses they took at the College. During that time, students had to pass their swim course to be eligible to graduate. While Briley enjoyed her courses in basketball, swim, modern dance, and tennis, the other women had different stories. Brown Strafer mentioned that she was placed in an intermediate swim course. In order to pass, students had to swim 8 lengths of a pool in 4 different strokes. Karen Ely expressed the struggles she went through with her physical education courses, especially tennis and swim. She had to drop the swim course until they made one for beginners, and said she still doesn’t know how she passed to the class to this day. Physical education was a stronger focus in the William & Mary education than it is to date, and it also served as a channel for women to learn about their strength and capabilities. Even now, the Legacy 3 reflects on these physical fitness tests as moments of accomplishment and confidence.
Lynn Briley, Karen Ely, and Janet Brown Strafer attended William & Mary from 1967 to 1971, a time when dress codes, blue cards for women’s whereabouts, curfews, house mothers, and bed checks were the norm. In an interview with the College’s university archivist, Briley stated, “when we came to campus, women were not allowed to wear slacks or jeans,” while Brown Strafer remarked that “guys could wear anything.” As an example, Ely laughed as she shared that she once got in trouble for wearing her pajamas outside the dorm during exams. Although the constraints of a sexist dress code seem extreme to current William & Mary students, as Briley put it, “those were the times… we had gender roles.” On a heavier note, these women discussed rape on campus and stated they simply didn’t talk about rape while they were students, even though people knew that it was happening. Ely stated that she even “liked it when they made the dorms co-ed because… it was louder, but it was actually safer for us.”