Physical education professional training did not begin in America until the North American Turnerbund, the national governing body of gymnastics societies created by German gymnastics enthusiasts, established the Normal College of the American Gymnastic Union (NCAGU) in 1866. Its purpose was to train qualified gymnastics instructors, first for the country’s Turnvereins and later for public school programs.

A large group of people gather around a train. Some are standing in front of the train while others sit on top of the train.
A Normal College Gymnastic group en route to summer camp, 1922 Credit: Bretzman Collection, Indiana Historical Society View Source

New York City became the site of the first NCAGU because that city had a Turner hall large enough for the school and because there were plentiful job placement opportunities for students. Chicago (1871), New York (1871-1875), and Indianapolis (1889-1891) were all early locations of the Normal College. It achieved a relatively permanent home when it moved to Milwaukee and stayed for 16 years (1891-1907).

In 1880, the national convention of the North American Turnerbund launched a campaign for compulsory gymnastics in public schools. By 1898, several major American cities, including Indianapolis, had adopted school physical education programs, a result that the U.S. Commissioner of Education attributed to the Turners’ efforts.

Between 1889 and 1891 the school, operating as the Gymnastic Teachers Seminary, relocated temporarily to Indianapolis while new facilities for the school were prepared in Milwaukee. The school made Milwaukee its home from 1875 to 1889 and again from 1891 to 1907.

In 1907, the American Turners changed the name of the school to the Normal College of the American Gymnastic Union and made a permanent return to Indianapolis where the city’s German community received it enthusiastically. It became part of the Indiana University extension in 1941 (later Iupui), although it remained in the east wing of the Athenaeum Turners building on Michigan Street until 1971.

In 1973, the school was renamed the IUPUI School of Physical Education. By 2018, the remnants of this school were reorganized and folded into IUPUI’s School of Health and Human Sciences.

Revised March 2021

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