2248 Ryons St, Lincoln, NE 68502
Mabel Lee (August 18, 1886 - December 3, 1985) was a pioneer in Women's physical education. "Mabel Lee was a woman of boldness and vision. Committed to quality physical education and sports programs for girls, she was responsible for the creation of some of the first girls’ basketball teams in Iowa." —Dr. Patricia Geadelmann, 1994
She was born in Clearfield, Iowa, to Jennie Aikman Lee and David Alexander Lee, who was in the lumber business at the time. Although small, underweight, and often ill as a child, Mabel enjoyed physical games and activities that she called “natural gymnastics.” These were especially important to her because organized physical education was not then part of the school system. In 1893, when Mabel's father joined his two brothers in the coal business, the family moved to Centerville, Iowa. As a high school sophomore in Centerville, Iowa in 1902, she started girls’ basketball. Attending Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, she majored in psychology and minored in biology. After administrative jobs at Coe College, Oregon Agricultural College, and Beloit College, Lee served as director of physical education for women at the University of Nebraska for 28 years.
From the late 1920s on, it was well known at Nebraska that the two most prominent women on campus, Mable Lee, and the great sportswoman and linguistic scholar Louise Pound, did not get along. Athletics played different roles in the two women's lives, leading to very different ideas about women and athletics at the University. Mabel Lee, by most accounts, was a very attractive woman, femininity was important to her, she dressed carefully, she loved gymnastics, sport and dance, but never thought of herself as a star athlete. She valued the active life as a path to a healthy and happy, but well-rounded life. She grew to be a very avid hiker and canoeist, hiking and climbing in the Rocky Mountains and Swiss Alps, and canoeing in Minnesota. She tried to promote athletics for all women students, and so favored intramural sports, and she showed little interest in or support for intercollegiate athletics, an activity which tends to favor only an athletically gifted elite. Pound, by contrast, an athletic champion herself, favored competition above all else. She supported intercollegiate athletics, and had no time for intramural sports. She believed that athletics could only benefit an athletic elite. When the Women's Athletic Association proclaimed "we play for the fun of the game..." Louise Pound responded with "Sissies, all sissies! Bah!" (Both parties quoted in Knoll, p. 78, cited below) Pound also had little patience with conventional femininity and though she dressed neatly, cared rather less about a feminine appearance and her apparel than Lee did. The two women's personalities and ideas contrasted to a degree that made it difficult for them to tolerate one-another.
In 1931 she became the first woman president of the American Physical Education Association. At the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics she was asked to stand in for First Lady Lou Hoover in presiding over women's events. She was an early advocate for physical education for children to establish healthy habits. During World War II, Lee served as a regional director of physical fitness under the Office of Civilian Defense, was a member of the physical fitness council of the Federal Security Agency, and was on the civilian advisory committee for the Women's Army Corps.
In 1977, the Women's physical education building at the University of Nebraska was renamed "Mabel Lee Hall".
In 1979 she was inducted into the Iowa Women's Hall of Fame. In 1983, she was honored as one of the five women who have done the most to promote women's fitness by the President’s Council on Physical Fitness and Sports.
My published books:
BACK TO HOME PAGE