Physical exercise has long been an important part of life at Salem Academy and College. The catalog for 1877–1878 states:
“The aim of the school is to afford a safe and pleasant home for those who may be entrusted to its care, to aid them in acquiring a solid education and healthy physical development, and in laying a substantial foundation of moral discipline and spiritual knowledge and culture.”
Boarding students in the 19th century were instructed to bring “thick-soled walking-shoes” and to purchase a uniform for calisthenic exercise. Daily walks with their teachers were considered important for the physical well-being of students.
The first tennis courts were built in 1886 behind Main Hall, and a basketball court was built where the Rondthaler Science Building now stands by 1903. The Salem Athletic Association was formed in 1916 and was concerned with intramural sports at Salem.
The outdoor swimming pool located behind Clewell Residence Hall was built in 1924 and was first used for a swim meet in 1925. Images of students sunbathing in the empty pool are well-known. The legend that Clewell residents once jumped into the pool from their dorm rooms, however, is not substantiated. The pool was filled in and converted to a patio in 1965. Today’s College and Academy swim teams compete in the indoor pool, which is used by many local teams.
By the middle of the 20th century, formal athletic teams were well established. Salem joined the Athletic Federation of College for Women in 1947 and began intercollegiate sports in 1969. That same year the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women was also formed. In 2008, Salem College became a full-fledged member of the NCAA.
Over the years, Salem has had a number of athletes well-known in their sport. Jane Barkman Brown was a gold medalist in swimming at the 1968 Olympics. In February 2019, Salem Academy and College celebrated its first class to be inducted into its Athletics Hall of Fame. In the words of former College Athletics Director Patricia Hughes, Salem’s Hall of Fame was designed “to honor and remember forever the legacies and achievements of Salem’s athletes, coaches, teams, and supporters to reinforce the wonderful history and tradition of Salem Academy and College Athletics.”
Today’s Academy Sabers field teams in a wide range of competitive sports including fencing. The College Spirits currently compete in volleyball, softball, basketball, soccer, swimming, and tennis. In addition, weekly physical activities such as yoga and Tai Chi are offered to both College and Academy students. Through its physical education programs, Salem continues to recognize the importance of a healthy body for physical and emotional wellness.
Michelle Hopkins Lawrence
Co-chair of 250th History Committee