Physical Education for Women: Andrew Female College and a Confederate Veteran


Forum Host
Silver Patron
Mar 15, 2013

"There never was a more terrible lesson of the dangerous folly, not to say the criminal wickedness, of our civilization in trying to make women helpless, weak and defenseless creatures such as nature never designed them to be..." In 1874, when the Union and Recorder (Milledgeville, GA) advocated for women's physical education, the newspaper was still way ahead of the times. It may be surprising to find that one of the first formal physical education programs for women in the United States was provided in 1866 at the Andrew Female College in Cuthbert, Georgia.

[The Albany Tri-weekly News. (Albany, Ga.), August 24, 1867, page 2.]
Alexander Lockett Hamilton was a Confederate Veteran - former Chaplain and Quartermaster of the 16th Alabama Infantry and former aid to Brigadier General Sterling Alexander Martin (S.A.M.) Wood. In 1866, after the war, when classes resumed at the Andrew Female College, Hamilton became its President. He added a physical education course to the College’s curriculum. It was the first such course to be required of women in the South - eight years before this article appeared.

If A. L. Hamilton didn't write the 1874 article below for the Milledgeville Union and Recorder, I'm sure he was in agreement:

Four hundred men were saved from the wreck of the Atlantic, and one boy of twelve years of age. Not a single woman was saved. No especial effort was made to save the boy. He saved himself by a judicious use of his feeble strength. But many men made gallant efforts to save their wives, their sweethearts, and their daughters. Why is the total failure?

The answer is plain. The women could not swim. The women could not climb. The women could not cling to a rope stretched from the ship to the shore. The women were not dressed either to withstand the cold or allow them the free play of their limbs and muscles. A little feeble boy could climb the rigging, could crawl along a rope, could safely drop from the height into a rocking boat, but the women could do nothing useful to themselves or others. Yet if the ship had been filled with barbarians, as many women as men, proportionally would have reached the shores.

Our boasted civilization and the decrees of fashion and miscalled propriety murder women whenever an emergency arrives which reduces all caught in a great catastrophe from "ladies" and "gentlemen" to a dependence upon animal strength, cool courage, muscular and mental resources capable battling with the elements. There never was a more terrible lesson of the dangerous folly, not to say the criminal wickedness, of our civilization in trying to make women helpless, weak and defenseless creatures such as nature never designed them to be; and yet this lesson will pass utterly unheeded, as so many hundreds of previous ones have passed. -Christian Intelligence
[Union and Recorder. (Milledgeville, Ga.), May 06, 1874, page 4.]

History of Andrew College
Find A Grave memorial Andrew Lockett Hamilton
Image 1800's physical fitness from
Last edited:

(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)
Aug 6, 2016
Thanks for posting this interesting story. As I have shoveled snow this winter, I have thought and wondered how Vermont women managed while their husband/father/brother were away at war. I can't imagine these women as being unable to do for themselves. Then when I think of all the farm work, managing the home and all the responsibility of their property - they had to be tough. However I don't know if they could swim as we only have a short season (when the water is warm enough) and they were probably doing their summer chores and had no time to learn. This post also brought childhood memories (not necessarily all fond ones) of all my gym teachers.

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Feb 14, 2012
Central Pennsylvania
It was maybe more varied than he projected? Guessing yes, there'd be women who never lifted anything heavier than a hair brush but gee whiz. Our ancestors had awfully physical lives although maybe depended on where they lived and/or what social class. Like DBF said, shoveling snow wasn't for wussies. You haul water buckets around, babies everywhere, wet laundry and a carpet out to the line, you'd get fit in a big hurry.

Is it a little odd he didn't mention anything about those skirts? I'm with UVrelics thinking that's what would have killed women in the water- can anyone imagine trying to swim in those layers and probably some metal hoops?

Having said that, the whole helpless female thing was sure an impediment. Era novels are filled with fainting damsels waiting rescue by strong men although have yet to read an account not fictional. It may be a little unfair comparing some war era women to those leading sedentary lives. One of our era nurses would have been able to bench press a Buick.

Northern Light

Lt. Colonel
Forum Host
Jul 21, 2014
Or did the fact that the bulky dresses they had on get soaked and they sank like a rock.
Well, the men likely were wearing wool as well and if you have ever held wet wool, you know it is heavy. You make a good point, though and one that sprang to my mind when I read that part. Women's fashions have always been constricting, in one way or another. Even today clothes are so tight and heels are so high that I don't see how they can possibly be comfortable.

(Membership has it privileges! To remove this ad: Register NOW!)