Quantifying the Ideal

Hemenway Gymnasium

Sargent grew concerned that Harvard students were developing their minds at the expense of their physical health. To correct this imbalance, Sargent devised a system of exercises that would mould students to the ideal proportions he envisioned. “Better bodies,” Sargent argued in an 1889 popular magazine article, were necessary to “insure a higher development of the individual, and advance the condition of the race.” Measurements were the basis of his physical education program. To create a baseline set of data, Sargent measured each student’s form, symmetry, and strength using calipers and other scientific tools. Based on these measurements, he recommended an individualized prescription of exercises designed to correct deficiencies in each student’s physique.


Image courtesy of A. D. White Architectural Photographs, Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, Cornell University