Celebrating 100 Years of Wellness

It’s 1917. Woodrow Wilson is President, and the U.S. entered World War I. Hoosiers are listening to the new hit song Back Home Again in Indiana, statewide prohibition just passed, and citizens in New Albany are cleaning up from a devastating tornado that ravaged the city.

In Bloomington, the population is growing significantly and construction is booming with many new buildings being completed, including a new courthouse, city hall, two theaters, two railroad stations, and a new library. And, on campus, IU’s students attend classes in what’s now called The Old Crescent – Owen Hall, Wylie Hall, Lindley Hall, Kirkwood Hall – and student athletes compete in baseball, basketball and football, among other sports. It was also during this time that the university saw the need for a larger gymnasium space not only for its basketball program but for intramural sports and recreation.

Since 1892, students have had access to on-campus gymnasium space starting with the Men’s Gymnasium (women were provided an exercise room in Wylie Hall) located just south of the current Indiana Memorial Union. Opened in January of 1892, the structure cost $1,000 (almost $27,000 today) and was 40 feet by 60 feet. A few years later in 1897, a larger gym and multi-use facility was constructed next to Owen Hall replacing the original men’s gym. The new facility, called Assembly Hall, could seat up to 1,600, served as the home court for the IU Men’s Basketball team, and hosted Commencement and other university events.

As construction wrapped up on the original Assembly Hall, female students pushed for their own facility citing that an exercise room didn’t provide “equal opportunity or equal facilities.” Allowing women to utilize the current men’s facility was out of the question because as Edna Munro, the first director of the Department of Physical Education for Women at IU, noted, “distractions abounded for men who were passing by and were captivated by women in sporting attire and performing physical acts associated with sport and training.”

In response to the need for bigger and better athletic facilities for women, the university approved the construction of the Student Building. The building was to include two swimming pools, a women’s gymnasium and social parlors in addition to a chimes tower and 500-seat auditorium. At a cost of $100,000 ($2.6 million today), the Student Building was completed in 1908 and not only improved athletic facilities for women on campus, but also housed the school’s Department of Physical Education for Women for more than 50 years.

Over the next decade, enrollment at IU continued to grow and the need for further expansion of its men’s gymnasium became clear. In 1914, students formed a new interest group and began talking with the university’s administration about building a facility dedicated to recreational sports. The following year, the site of the new men’s gymnasium was cleared and construction began in early 1916. Built on what was then the far east side of campus, the new gym opened in 1917 and included a swimming pool, a gymnasium, locker and shower facilities, classrooms for physical education classes, and offices for faculty. Unbeknownst to those who built this facility, it would become the cornerstone of the IU School of Public Health–Bloomington, live in the heart of campus, and continue to be used 100 years later by students, faculty and staff for recreational sports and wellness activities.

As the foundation of the School of Public Health, the original men’s gym has been incorporated into what we see today as the school facility. In 1928, the fieldhouse was added to the east side of the gym with the original purpose of giving the football team an indoor practice facility. In 1962, a $3.6 million addition to the north side of the men’s gym included space for classes and offices, and the Royer pool.

Over the last 100 years, the original men’s gymnasium has been home to the IU Men’s Basketball team, hosted Indiana High School Athletic Association state championship basketball games, was the first gym to have glass backboards, and provided space for hundreds of thousands of students to participate in health and wellness activities. Today, as the school marks the centennial birthday of this original facility, it celebrates what was the start of a focus and dedication to health and wellness programming—academic and athletic —on the Bloomington campus.