What You Should Know About Gertrude Hood

Since we live in a time when female Colonels can crush it on the basketball court, dominate in volleyball and soccer, and play in a variety of club and intramural sports with question, it’s hard to imagine a time when women were totally excluded from athletic activities. For women, the opportunity to play sports didn’t arise until the late 1920s at Eastern. If you’re a woman who has played sports at Eastern in any capacity, from 1-AA athletics to intramural sports, if you have studied in the Department of Exercise and Sports Sciences, or even if you have simply used the amenities at the fitness and wellness center, you are enjoying opportunities that would not have been available to you at a point in Eastern’s past. In large part, we’ve got Gertrude Hood to thank, a woman who pioneered women’s athletics at Eastern during a long and dedicated career of service to the University.

Gertrude Hood. Photo courtesy of EKU Special Collections and Archives in Richmond, KY.

Gertrude Hood. Photo courtesy of EKU Special Collections and Archives in Richmond, KY.

You may recognize Gertrude Hood’s name from having seen the athletic field that was named in her honor for her contributions to athletics at EKU, particularly the development of women’s athletic programs.[1] After having obtained a Master’s degree at Columbia University, Hood had gotten her start in physical education at a normal school in North Dakota and came highly recommended for the position at Eastern.[2] She started her 45 year tenure at EKU in 1928 as the teacher of physical education for women following the resignation of a woman named Helen Russell from that post. In her early years as an instructor at Eastern, she taught courses called “Recreation,” “Natural Dancing,” “Sanitary Science,” and “Basketball for Women.”[3]  In 1929, Hood was named the Director of Physical Welfare for Women, and shortly after taking this position she started a women’s filed hockey team. Hood also maintained a solid program of intramural sports for women including basketball, volleyball, field hockey, tennis, archery, tenniquoits, and cage ball (sounds intense!).[4] In 1929, the Eastern Progress boasted that nearly 200 women were active in intramural sports.[5]

Hood moved the intramural teams toward participation in organized competitions by initiating “play days” and “field days” with other institutions.[6] As the Progress noted: “Eastern girls had a chance to prove that boys aren’t the only ones who can win athletic honors, when on Saturday, April 20, fifteen girls from the Physical Education classes journeyed to Lexington to participate in the Play Day activities sponsored by the Woman’s Athletic Association of the University of Kentucky…These girls were chosen by Miss Hood for physical ability and individual sportsmanship.”[7] In 1946, Hood organized a Women’s Athletic Association for Eastern students that later became known as the Women’s Recreational Association. This development in 1946 marked the beginning of official intercollegiate competition for women’s sports between nearby universities such as University of Kentucky, Berea College, University of Louisville, and the University of Cincinnati.[8]

Hood was also fondly remembered by Eastern students for her instruction in dance. She instructed students in classical dances for productions like the play “Trojan Women,”[9] but also was known for her instruction of folk dancing classes in Weaver gym.

Photo courtesy of EKU Special Collections and Archives in Richmond, KY.

Gertrude Hood. Photo courtesy of EKU Special Collections and Archives in Richmond, KY.

Year after year, publications from Eastern affirmed that Gertrude Hood was a major presence on campus and had a significant impact on students’ daily life. A “Where are They Now?” feature in the 1978 edition of the Eastern Alumnus reminisced about Hood’s role on campus, saying, “Who among us could forget Miss Gertrude Hood and the many colorful memories she left us. For 44 years, she was a campus tradition, sometimes with her trusty dog, Rocky (or was it Stoney), but always with her strong sense of service which caused her to take such a personal interest in her students. Those who tried to cut her 8 a.m. Monday classes sometimes found themselves called to the phone to answer directly to her. It may not have been much fun on those Mondays, but her kind of personal caring has long since vanished with the coming of the cybernetic age.”[10] For male and female student alike, Hood clearly played an important role in the students’ experience as Eastern and she helped to shape the institution that we know and love. Cybernetic age or no, I believe we have all experienced faculty, staff and administrators like her who have a lasting impact; it’s part of the essential Eastern.

If you’d like to dig a bit further to see more information about Gertrude Hood, each of the footnotes link to an online copy of a publication that makes mention of Hood’s career at Eastern.

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