When we were in school – whether elementary, middle, or high - the time we always looked forward to (other than recess in grade school) was gym. Gym ‘class’, as it was sometimes called.

In my high school gym class we did calisthenics, played basketball.....and dodgeball. Nowadays dodgeball is banned for being “too violent”. Gimme a break – basically all sports can cause injuries, so why pick on dodgeball? Okay, I’m getting off-track.

In the last few decades, “hey, let’s go to the gym” meant "let's go exercise", where there was plenty of equipment for you to do your ‘workout’.

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But gym class? Much different. Not only did the gym coach make you play whatever sport he had in mind for that day, but you also had to shower with your school mates, no matter how embarrassing that could be.

Just what does the word “gymnasium” mean?

It came from the Greek word ‘gumnazo’, which means exercise, and gumnos, meaning either a skimpy cloth or being naked. The Greeks called their exercise places ‘gymnasias’ where the Greek elite would go to firm up. Their gym sports were boxing, throwing a discus or javelin, running, and wrestling. The gymnasias were elaborate places with baths, changing rooms, outhouses, and practice rooms. The men who frequently came here did their routine completely naked, after oiling (or powdering) their bodies. It was only a matter of time until the Romans began their own ‘gymnasias’, which evolved into the infamous Roman Baths.

How far back do the gymnasias go? From what scientists/archaeologists could tell, the earliest could be in the 6th Century – 500 AD.

In the early 20th Century, gymnasiums and gym classes were in full force, in Michigan and elsewhere. Not just in schools, but in asylums, sanitariums, poor houses, and homes for the elderly. The gallery below depicts images from 1900-1920, showing different gymnasiums from a few Michigan towns and cities.

Old Michigan Gyms: 1900-1920s


Old One-Room Schoolhouses & High Schools

Children's Playgrounds of Michigan

Girls' Basketball in Various Michigan Towns: 1905-1920s

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