NYU Alumni & Friends Connect

October 15, 2019

Written by: Emily Rose Clayton (GSAS ’20)

“The Place: Bear Mountain, in the beautiful Interstate Park.
The Time: Sometime in August, 1927.
The Scene: On the shores of Lake Sebago, near a bathing crib, which resounds with shouts and laughter of the bathers.” – NYU Alumnus, February 1927

As NYU all-too-slowly begins to cool down from the summer’s heat, it is not difficult to imagine the appeal of a course of study far away from the sweltering stress of crowded city streets. From 1927 to 1961, those students fortunate enough to be enrolled in the Physical Education Department of the School of Education (now Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development), spent six to eight weeks at New York University’s camp on Lake Sebago, in Palisade Interstate Park at Bear Mountain.

The School of Education’s fledgling Physical Education degree had been established three years prior, under the leadership of Professor Clark W. Hetherington. According to the program announcement in 1924, the new degree offered “professional courses which have a special interest for teachers of physical education and for play and recreation directors in service in New York City and its neighborhoods.” Students were offered classes in theory, policies, and objectives of physical education for both traditional and remedial schools, as well as community recreation centers. These theoretical courses were backed up with a variety of scientific courses, including health and hygiene, anatomy, kinesiology, and even psychology.

Along with traditional course work, students chose from a variety of physical activities and underwent physical proficiency exams. The program had both male and female students and instructors, and while students attended the majority of their classes together, physical activities were separated by sex. Men were enrolled in activities such as track and field, outdoor activities, and a variety of team sports, while women were offered gymnastics, dance, and a variety of outdoor and indoor sports.

The physical aspect of the degree led to the establishment of the camp at Lake Sebago, which was constructed by the Palisades Interstate Park and rented by the University for use with the Physical Education program. The camp was a feature unique to the School of Education, and the February 1927 edition of the NYU Alumnus Magazine dedicated a feature article to the establishment of the camp, which was “the first, it is believed, of its kind to be maintained by any university.” Students were housed at the camp for a six-week course of study for a fee of $95, which included room and board. Classes were charged at a cost of $8.50 per point (the equivalent of a credit hour today), with an average student taking six to ten points over the six weeks at Lake Sebago.

Students had full access to camp amenities such as “boats, canoes, crib for swimming, part of a golf course, athletic field affording an opportunity for football, baseball, hockey and archery, and tennis courts.” Students were housed in four-bedroom cabins along the shores of the lake, with two students per room, and the camp’s kitchen boasted “a typical summer diet including fresh vegetables and dairy products.” The main lodge included both indoor and outdoor spaces for students to gather, along with a library, post office, and a small store.

NYU maintained the camp until 1961, at which point the Physical Education department ceased the camp-based portion of the program. The camp’s original facilities are still a part of Harriman State Park, however, and maintained by the New York State Park Service. The Physical Education department continued to evolve, at one point offering six distinct course tracks, including dance, physical therapy, and health education before narrowing its focus and eventually closing the program in 1994.