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Amherst College Athletics Collection

Identifier: MA.00187

Scope and Contents

The Athletics Collection documents the history of intercollegiate athletics at Amherst College from 1859 to the present. The bulk of the materials in the collection fall into the period from 1930 to the present, but earlier periods are also well represented. The collection consists primarily of printed material and photographs with some correspondence and memorabilia items as well. The collection is added to regularly. Material on the development of physical education as a discipline and on physical education classes at Amherst can be found in the Department of Physical Education and Hygiene Records.


  • Creation: 1865 - 2009
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1900 - 1990


Conditions Governing Access

There is no restriction on access to this collection for research use. Particularly fragile items may be restricted for preservation purposes.

Conditions Governing Use

Requests for permission to publish material from this collection should be directed to the Archives and Special Collections. It is the responsibility of the researcher to identify and satisfy the holders of all copyrights.

Biographical / Historical

Amherst College was one of the first educational institutions in the country to recognize the benefits of systematic exercise of the body as a complement to the education of the mind. The College established the Department of Physical Education and Hygiene in 1861 and appointed Edward "Doc" Hitchcock, M.D. (AC 1849) as its head. It was the first department of its kind in the country. For many decades, the "Amherst System" called for mandatory supervised exercise in the gymnasium, half an hour a day for four days a week. Class rivalries developed (and were encouraged) through annual events like the fall "cider meet" and spring prize exhibition. These events naturally inspired athletic competitions with nearby colleges and universities. Prior to the 1860s and 1870s, very little intercollegiate competition was known in the United States; the two earliest areas of competition were boating and baseball. (Amherst and Williams, in fact, hold the distinction of playing the first intercollegiate baseball game on July 1, 1859.) From 1880 to 1900, Amherst's athletic contests were chiefly in baseball, track (also known as relay) and football, playing against all of the New England colleges, including Harvard and Yale. During this period, intercollegiate athletics became a more formalized part of the institution with the creation of the Athletic Board and Fund in 1890; previously, athletics had been primarily organized by student initiative. A boom of athletic competition came around 1900 with the addition of tennis, track, basketball, fencing, swimming, squash and hockey. Amherst College has continued to be recognized for its athletic programs throughout the 20th century and to the present day. Its modern-day philosophy is characterized by an emphasis on the all-round development of the student-athlete, and intercollegiate competition that is a vibrant part of campus life and tradition.

Brief Chronology of Early Amherst College Athletics

"Gymnastic Society" formed for the construction and maintenance of gymnastic apparatus in the College grove. A small bath house is built in the southwest corner of the grove for showers, with water coming through troughs from the college well. By 1858, Gymnastic Society activities included: jumping, running, round ball, loggerheads, quoits, association football, wicket, wrestling, boxing, kicking and weight lifting.
Running track cleared in the grove.
1859 July 1
The first intercollegiate baseball game in the U.S. was held between Amherst and Williams in Pittsfield, Mass. The game came about as a result of a challenge to Williams from a group of Amherst students. Williams accepted and in return challenged Amherst to chess. ("Williams and Amherst - Base Ball and Chess! - Muscle and Mind," read the headline in the Amherst Express.) Amherst won both contests on succeeding days. The baseball game was played according to "Massachusetts rules," which gradually were replaced in favor of "New York rules" established in the 1840s.
Barrett Gymnasium completed. Gymnastic Society became the Department of Physical Education.
Edward Hitchcock (AC 1849) appointed as the first Professor of Hygiene and Physical Education.
"Velocipede [bicycle] mania."
Boating "craze." The Varsity Crew of 1872 won the Intercollegiate Rowing Championship for Sixes on the Connecticut River in Springfield.
Start of intercollegiate football competition.
Blake Field completed.
1878 Oct 20
The first "Cider Meet" was held on Blake Field, a competition between the classes of 1880 and 1881 featuring a variety of athletic events.
Lawn Tennis and Bicycle Clubs organized. "Intercollegiate Base Ball Association" formed with Harvard, Brown, Princeton, Yale, Dartmouth and Amherst.
Amherst joined the newly formed intercollegiate tennis league.
1884 Fall
Pratt Gymnasium opened for use.
Intercollegiate Football Association formed with Williams, MIT, Tufts and Amherst.
1890 Feb 1
Amherst College Athletic Board organized; the board consisted of three faculty members, three alumni, three undergraduates and Frederic B. Pratt (AC 1887).
1891 May 22
Dedication of Pratt Athletic field, donated by Frederic B. Pratt (AC 1887). It included thirteen acres with a quarter mile running track, a 120-yard straightaway for dashes, a baseball diamond, a football field, and a grandstand with bathrooms and dressing rooms.
1892 Fall
Richard F. Nelligan appointed permanent trainer of the track team and assistant to Dr. Hitchcock in gymnasium exercises. Nelligan served the college over a period of nearly forty years and had a strong influence on Amherst athletics and athletes.
Basketball first played at Amherst.
Fencing Club and Golf Club organized.
The old triangular league of Amherst, Dartmouth, and Williams dissolved, and a new triangular league of Amherst, Wesleyan, and Williams formed.
1899 Fall
Grandstand at Pratt Field was destroyed by fire; a replacement was built in time for use by the 1900 baseball team.
Basketball games with other colleges appeared in the records for the first time.
1906 Jun
New natatorium (swimming pool) in Pratt Gymnasium dedicated at Commencement; new squash courts also added.
1909 Jan
A new skating rink opened, the gift of Charles M. Pratt, (AC 1879), marking the beginning of hockey competition.
Hitchcock Memorial Field built, named after Edward "Doc" Hitchcock (AC 1849), comprising forty acres directly south of Pratt Gymnasium. It initially included six tennis courts, a baseball diamond (also used as two soccer fields), and three terraces for outdoor basketball and athletics. (In 1923 it was considerably expanded.)
The Cage was built with a dirt floor, intended chiefly for indoor baseball, track, and (with a wooden floor installed) basketball.


56 Linear feet (47 records storage boxes, 3 archives boxes, 3 oversize archives boxes, 4 oversize flat boxes, 15 negative boxes, 1 wrapped package)

Language of Materials



Programs, photographs, correspondence, press information, newsclippings, and other records and memorabilia documenting the history of intercollegiate and intramural athletics at Amherst College. The collection does not include much material related to physical education; see separate collection.


This collection is organized into eight series:

  1. Series 1: General, 1859-present
  2. Series 2: Press Releases, Rosters, Schedules, and Statistics, 1938-present
  3. Series 3: Brochures and Programs, 1868-present
  4. Series 4: Football Programs, 1878-present
  5. Series 5: Media Guides, 1947-present
  6. Series 6: Publications, 1908-present
  7. Series 7: Athletic Schedules, 1894-present
  8. Series 8: Photographs, 1870-present


Materials are added to the collection on an ongoing basis.

Related Materials

  • Edward (AC 1849) and Mary Judson Hitchcock Family Papers. Edward Hitchcock (AC 1849) was the first Professor of Physical Education and Hygiene at Amherst and an early and nationally-known proponent of physical education.
  • Department of Physical Education and Hygiene Records.
  • Amherst College Library Catalog. Cataloged Athletics and Physical Education related pamphlets and books. (Search by subject "Amherst College - Sports" or "Amherst College - [name of sport]")
  • Buildings and Grounds Collection. Information and photographs of athletics buildings and facilities.
  • Objects Collection. Sports equipment and memorabilia, including early gymnasium equipment and the baseballs used in the first intercollegiate baseball game in 1859.
  • College and University Intramural Athletics Handbooks Collection, c. 1948.
  • College and University Athletics Handbooks and Regulations Collection, 1895-1916.
  • Posters Collection. Posters advertising athletic events, mainly 1870-1905.
  • Committee on Public Exhibitions Record Books.
  • Amherst College Financial Records. Includes financial records for the Amherst Athletic Board and Athletic Associations.
  • Scrapbook Collection. Programs, tickets, schedules and other memorabilia, 1856-1943.
  • College Photographer's Negatives Collections. Official photographs of College athletic events from 1960-2005.
  • Student and College publications, including the Amherst Student and Olio. Articles on athletic events and listings and photographs of athletic teams and events.
  • Biographical Files (Alumni and Non-Alumni). Student athletes and Athletics Department staff members.
  • Albert E. Lumley Papers. Papers documenting his time as Professor and head of the department of Physical Education, 1928-1968 (restricted, unprocessed).
  • Allison "Eli" Marsh (AC 1913) Papers, 1915-1979. 4 linear feet. Publications, photographs, clippings, letters, memorabilia, academic regalia and other materials documenting Eli Marsh's career as a soccer coach and professor of Physical Education, chiefly at Amherst College, 1917-1958, but also at Ohio State University, 1915-1917.
  • Coach James Ostendarp Football Team Records (restricted, unprocessed).
  • Football Films Collection, 1940s-1989.
  • Walter Tower, A Glance at Amherst Athletics (Amherst, Mass.: Amherst College Alumni Council, 1935). Available as electronic text on the web:

Under Revision
Barbara Trippel Simmons, Mariah Sakrejda-Leavitt and Peter A. Nelson.
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Amherst College Archives and Special Collections Repository

Amherst College Archives & Special Collections
Robert Frost Library
61 Quadrangle Drive
Amherst MA 01002-5000
(413) 542-2299