A History of Brown Athletic Facilities, Part II:
Women Begin Play; Men’s Facilities Upgraded—1900-1950
By Peter Mackie ’59
Sports Archivist, Edward North Robinson 1896 Collection of Brown Athletics
This is the second of a four-part series that will detail the evolution of Brown’s athletic facilities, from the days of the earliest intercollegiate competition to the facilities currently in use and in the planning stages.
The first half of the 20th century was a period of major change in Brown’s athletic facilities, with perhaps the most notable being the emergence of women’s athletics.
Soon after the establishment of the Women’s College in 1891 (renamed Pembroke in 1928), the Department of Physical Culture was created. This department (later Physical Education) helped create a unique athletic identity for women. Athletics were viewed as a part of the curriculum, with social and educational benefits derived from genteel competition. Women received classroom instruction and engaged in interclass competition in basketball, bowling and tennis. Facilities were in their infancy, with the top floor of Pembroke Hall serving as a gymnasium of sorts, with exercise equipment (Indian clubs, dumbbells) carried upstairs by students. Intercollegiate contests were virtually nonexistent.
With the opening of Sayles Gym in 1907, named for Frank Sayles 1890 in recognition of his $50,000 gift, women had a cozy campus gymnasium which included a balcony track, bowling alleys and a main floor for basketball, gymnastics, indoor tennis and physical education classes. The only outdoor facility was a tennis court, which was later augmented by two more on Manning Street. Outdoor sports such as field hockey and track were held at the Metcalf Botanical Garden, where Brown Stadium now stands. Equipment for these sports was trucked out daily.
The arrival of Bessie Rudd, who served as Director of Physical Education from 1930-1961 signaled an expansion of women’s sports. With a motto of “Let the women have their sports and the men have theirs,” she created a three-level paradigm, with recreational, instructional and competitive programs. At the club varsity level, competition was encouraged: play hard and socialize afterwards. Another important milestone for athletics at Pembroke was the creation of Pembroke Field (1936) and Pembroke Field House (1938), the results of a property bequest from the Aldrich brothers (Charles T. 1877 and Henry L. 1876).
Field hockey, fistball and archery were popular in the 1930s, but miniscule budgets limited travel. One clever antidote was the practice of telegraphic archery meets, in which teams competed on their own campus and telegraphed results to each other. Baseball was also popular, and Pembroke played its first game in 1928, besting Wheaton 21-8. After the game, both teams went to Miller Hall for ice cream. Softball appeared in the 1940s, and Pembrokers swam at the Plantation Club and sailed competitively on the Seekonk.
While the women were establishing an athletic identity, the men were expanding theirs with a spate of new facility projects to support growing interest and participation.
As the century opened on the Brown campus, Andrews Field was home for baseball, football and track. Opened in 1899 and named for President Andrews, this seven-acre facility featured wooden stands, some of which were movable. Large crowds (a record 8,000 watched Carlisle’s Jim Thorpe play his final college game in 1912) generated more revenue. Located between Camp and Ivy Streets, a short street car ride from campus, Andrews Field was part of a major physical expansion program under President Faunce. Marston Field House, which cost $13,000, was added in 1907. Given by Edgar L. Marston, whose son Hunter S. 1908 was manager of the track team, it replaced the original primitive dressing facility.
Colgate Hoyt Pool was added to Lyman Gym in 1903, enabling Brown to add the “minor sports” of swimming and water polo. The pool was the gift of Colgate Hoyt, whose two sons attended Brown. This period also saw the introduction of the live bear mascot, which made its first appearance at the 1905 Brown-Dartmouth football game in Springfield.
The first half of the 20th century was punctuated by two world wars, the Roaring Twenties and the Great Depression. Each of these watershed periods had a major impact on Brown athletics, from expansion of teams and facilities to severe retrenchment.
With the advent of the sports-crazed Roaring Twenties, Brown undertook one of the most ambitious facility initiatives in the country. Under the leadership of Athletic Director “Doc” Marvel 1894, the university acquired two 15-acre parcels flanking Elmgrove Avenue. Cat Swamp gave way to three major structures in just two years: Aldrich Field and Baseball Field (1925), Brown Field (1925) and the Brown Gymnasium (1925), later renamed for “Doc” Marvel after his death in 1938.
In April 1924 a campaign to raise $500,000 began. Within 10 days success was assured, and when the books were closed, $541,246 was raised. An all-home football schedule had been arranged and stadium seats were “sold” for $25 each, with a guarantee of seats for the dedication games with Yale and Harvard. Even alumni of Brown’s dearest rivals made significant financial contributions, prompting President Faunce to state: “The co-operation of the alumni of other colleges… was a remarkable demonstration of the true fraternity of educated men in the city.” The Amphitheatre, as it was first called, was originally designed to seat 32,000 in mirror-image stands, but instead, 27,646 seats were installed, some of which were “temporary” wooden bleachers. A cinder track encircled Brown Field, dedicated as “A Field of Honor.”
The 15-acre plot on the east side of Elmgrove was named Aldrich Field to recognize the generosity of the Aldrich brothers who had donated $125,000. The concrete horseshoe baseball field, also called Aldrich Field, was one of the two best diamonds in the east and seated 6,000.
The massive brick colonial style gymnasium was completed in 1927. With its gold domed cupola and four clocks whose faces spelled out ALDRICH FIELD, and the magnificent Bronze Bruno statue on the entrance terrace, Marvel Gym was the capstone of the Elmgrove Avenue complex. Just as the stadium was to be expanded in the near future, so too was the gym. A planned attached pool and indoor cage fell victim to the Great Depression. An outdoor board track was later added behind Marvel.
The impact of these splendid new facilities was profound. The 1925 Liber Brunensis stated: “Out of a waste of woods and swamp has come one of the most modern and best-visioned athletic fields in the United States. How the ghosts of Lincoln and Andrews Fields must stare as they survey this field… with its baseball stands and diamonds, its football gridirons, tennis courts, track and its amphitheatre now rising majestically where only yesterday was a jungle!”
In addition to these facilities, which provided impetus for the addition of intercollegiate soccer (1925) and lacrosse (1926), Brown also created the 2.5-acre Thayer Street intramural field (now the Graduate Center) and tennis courts. All of these initiatives gave life to “Doc” Marvel’s dream of “A team for every man and every man on a team.” The extensive recreational sports program of today can trace its roots to Brown’s amazing accomplishments in the 1920s.
On other fronts, sailing was experiencing a revival, thanks to the 1937 acquisition of the Narragansett Boat Club’s boathouse on the Seekonk by the Class of 1907. Brown soon won national sailing championships (1942 and 1948). Ice hockey also underwent a revival after the 1925 opening of the Rhode Island Auditorium on North Main Street. Undergraduates organized class teams and rented ice time in the new arena. Varsity hockey was reinstated in 1926. Hockey also enjoyed an outdoor practice rink on the north side of Marvel Gym in the late 1940s.
The Great Depression and World War II were tumultuous periods for many Brown teams, with some disbanded. After the War, prosperity began to return, and under the leadership of President Henry Wriston, Brown was on the move again, being transformed from a small New England College into a national university. Since the 1930s there had been talk of a football Ivy League, and in 1945 the first Ivy Group Agreement was fashioned. Subsequent revisions would shape men’s and women’s athletics to the present day.