Another innovation at the college was the establishment of a requirement of physical education. The school of Hygiene, conducted by the college physician, appears at first to have been a series of lectures. The dangers and consequences of vice in all its forms, will be duly exposed, and general rules laid down for the guidance of youth, in all matters pertaining to moral, intellectual and physical Hygiene.
Pursuing this theme, President Bennett recommended to the board in 1886 a regular system of physical training. This goal was realized in 1887, when J. B. Pace gave $3,000 for a gymnasium and the interest on $7,000 annually to pay an instructor. The trustees approved the program, and a brick gymnasium was ordered in August 1887. (The actual cost was to be $5,252.) The professor of the course, J. B. Crenshaw, had already been selected. The building (top), after many uses-including post office, hall for the Commons Club, and artists' studio in which John Temple Witt modeled the statue of Bo- jangles Robinson now in Richmond-was pulled down by order of the board of trustees in 1974. It stood immediately to the north of Peele Hall, its axis running east and west, south of the fountain plaza. Crenshaw resigned in 1890 because of a cut in his salary and insufficient support for his program, but the course continued.
The motives for the physical education program (really calisthenics), like the course in hygiene, were moral rather than athletic. Bennett gave the board three reasons for it. First, Physical exercise in company is the physician's preventive and remedy for the terrible vice of masturbation which wrecks more minds and bodies than probably any other one cause of ruin among youths outwardly moral. Second, the exercise would give the students greater control over their bodies to bring it under full control of the will for life's purposes. Third, to develop a desirable College spirit.
Another introduction into the curriculum, one which continued the process of modernization, was history. As early as 1890, there were calls from the trustees and faculty to establish a course of instruction in the history of the United States. Similar calls would periodically issue forth throughout the nineties, but they remained unanswered for want of funds. The board had elected T W. Page, Ph.D., professor of history and sociology to the Randolph-Macon Woman's College in 1897. The study of history at the Ashland campus depended upon outside money. In 1898, the Reverend James Cannon, Jr., an alumnus, gave $600 to be invested in government bonds or mortgages; two-thirds of the proceeds were to buy books for the Bennett Memorial Historical Library and the remaining funds were for the Bennett Memorial Historical Medal, both named for his father- in-law, the late president of the college. In light of subsequent developments, one is tempted to suggest that Cannon may have had an additional motive, namely to bring himself to the favorable attention of the board. The Bennett prize is still occasionally awarded.
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Reprinted from Professor James Scanlon's Randolph-Macon College: A Southern History 1825-1967