In 1956, in response to an alarming medical journal article on the state of fitness in America’s youth ,President Eisenhower established the President’s Council on Youth Fitness. Once again, U.S children had been compared to Europe’s, and found wanting. In the early 1960s President Kennedy changed “Youth” to “Physical,” hoping to address the health of all Americans regardless of age, and the Council launched a national advertising campaign.
Much of the focus of the Council was fitness programs in schools; perhaps you remember taking the Presidential Physical Fitness Test (if you dreaded it as much as I did, you may be relieved to know that you were not alone, and that the test has been substantially changed. Thanks to the internet, we can watch, or re-watch, some of the Kennedy-era instructional films like this 10 minute movie made for elementary schools. The message here – and it’s not subtle – is that a fit populace is necessary for a successful United States:
Enthusiastic student: “If we’re healthy and strong, wouldn’t our nation be strong?”
Miss Teacher: “Of course! You are the future of America…”
Maryland’s own Future of America was fortunate to have the JCC on its side, along with the school system and the Department of Parks and Recreation. Promotional material from the newly-built JCC facility on Park Heights Avenue in the early 1960s makes clear the connection between occupied, engaged, and active youth, and “healthy-bodied and healthy-minded adults.”
Feature Image Caption: Neal Grossman won the Edward “Pat” Berman Memorial Trophy For the Best, Most Versatile Athlete of the JCC, 1966. Gift of the Jewish Community Center of Baltimore. JMM 2006.13.95
Post by JMM Collections Manager Joanna Church.