MSNBC Gives Wellesley an 'A'

September 7, 2012

Wellesley College was listed third in a recent MSNBC feature of The 20 Fittest Colleges in America.

MSNBC cites in particular Wellesley’s commitment to a physical education requirement for graduation, a prerequisite which has gone by they wayside at many other institutions. Physical fitness combined with intellectual rigor was part of the vision of Wellesley College founder Henry Durant. That was a somewhat radical notion in the late 19th century, but Durant outfitted the College Hall gymnasium with dumbbells, chest weights, and flying rings. In the 1880s, Wellesley became the first college in the country to establish a women's crew team. In 1893, the Wellesley College community founded Wellesley Golf Club, renamed Nehoiden in 1927, and now among the oldest nine-hole courses in the country.

In her book The Life of Henry Fowle Durant, author Florence Morse Kingsley 1880 wrote of Wellesley, “Our battle cry here is the old proverb mens sana in corpore sano.” Durant’s keenness for “a sound mind in a healthy body” lives on in many ways, including the P.E. requirement. That phrase, P.E. requirement, may sound like a chore, but the menu of options makes fulfilling it fun. Choices range from archery to Zumba with something for every taste in between. Students can learn to sail or play golf; get tough with fitness bootcamp or calm with tai chi; try fencing or rock-climbing; dance; play games; train to run a 10k; or practice self defense. Tug-of-war (as played in the 1923 photo) is not on the syllabus for 2012-13, but offerings change with the times so who knows when it may make a comeback.

Beyond the P.E. requirement, there’s a long-standing culture of active living at Wellesley, and a focus on health and wellness promoted both by the Division of Student Life and the Office of Human Resources.

Wellesley has 14 varsity sports: basketball, crew, cross country, fencing, field hockey, golf, lacrosse, soccer, softball, squash, swimming & diving, tennis, track & field, and volleyball.

Numerous sports clubs compete hard too, including archery, ballroom dancing, equestrian, ice hockey, quidditch, rugby, sailing, and ultimate Frisbee. The Outing Club organizes hiking, skiing, camping, trail running, and other outdoor fun. Intramural offerings keep basketball, soccer, and volleyball skills sharp.

All the same, Wellesley students might joke they are fit because of the size and topography of the campus where all of the above takes place—500 acres of beautiful, and hilly, landscapes.