Skip to main content

Collection Spotlight: Women’s Physical Education Majors (PEM) Club

Women playing field hockey

Women's Field Hockey was one of the many intramural sports sponsored by PEM and WRA. Photo circa 1925.

There have been hundreds of registered student organizations and groups in Illinois State University’s history with varying themes and interests. Many of those groups, including the Women’s Physical Education Majors (PEM) Club, were born out of a group of students who all majored in the same topic and wanted to share their love of their chosen major.

Now available to researchers, the collection of the Women’s Physical Education Majors (PEM) Club shows how a club became a campus staple, offering dozens of events that brought both men and women together to equally participate in social and athletic gatherings.

Physical education has always had a presence at Illinois State University. Students attending in the 1862–1863 academic year were required to participate in daily exercise, “including military drill under Capt. Potter, who has been a year in actual service.” Coursework in physical education was later introduced and made part of the university curriculum. These courses became popular, and with the added emphasis of physical education in the primary school classroom, a department for physical education was created. Not everyone could take the courses offered. While there were some mixed gender courses, most were specific to either men or women. Men’s courses included strength training, wrestling, sports scouting, and coaching while women’s courses focused on dance, camp leadership, recreational activities, and officiating for intramural programs. By the 1938–1939 academic year, the department split into men’s and women’s divisions, offering expanded courses and subjects to each group.

A women’s recreation group known as the Women’s Recreation Association had been active on campus since 1920. They were responsible for organizing many of the intramural sporting events, dances, and other co-ed activities. In the mid-1960s, another women’s athletics group formed: the Women’s Physical Education Major’s Club. They also organized intramural events, sporting activities, and dances. Though similar in nature, the WRA and Women’s PEM were never in competition with each other. In fact, they often worked together to organize intramural events. By 1965, the university moved to system of colleges. The men’s and women’s divisions in the department of Health and Physical Education were combined and placed in the College of Applied Science and Technology (CAST). The Women’s PEM Club continued after the changes, though it is unclear when it ultimately dissolved. The club was resurrected for a short period of time in the 1990s but has since evolved into the Physical Education Teacher Education (PETE) Club.

Our Women’s PEM Club collection would not exist without the donations of some wonderful former PEM Club members. Many of the pamphlets, booklets, and scrapbooks were all donated by women who were once part of the club and still maintain relationships with other former members. We’d love to grow this collection and add other PEM Club memorabilia to show in future exhibits. If you or anyone you know are former PEM club members who have items you’d like to donate, drop us a line at archives@ilstu.edu.

If you’d like to see what we currently have in this collection, take a look at the finding aid and email us to schedule an appointment.