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Swoboda, Marian J.; Roberts, Audrey J. / They came to learn, they came to teach, they came to stay
(1980)

Foss, Jean L.
Chapter 8: Emma Lou Wilder: she came to teach,   pp. 53-55 ff.


Page 53

8. Emma Lou Wilder: She Came To Teach
by Jean L. Foss
By virtue of the fact that La Crosse State Teachers College was the only
Teacher's College in Wisconsin authorized to train physical education
teachers between the years 1912-1958, Emma Lou Wilder emerged as a per-
son with a singular impact on physical education for girls and women in the
state and, to a large degree, the nation. During Wilder's thirty-five years
of
service from 1921 through 1956, hundreds of young women physical ed-
ucation majors came to view her as their mentor and, in many cases, their
ideal teacher and sportswoman.'
In her years at La Crosse, Wilder was instrumental in the development of
the physical education curriculum and worked for the implementation of the
recreation major, the health minor and the master's degree program in physi-
cal education. As a member of a small, cohesive faculty she performed all-
school duties such as work on the committees on student loans and scholar-
ships, curriculum, housing, and on various steering committees. She
developed a leadership role in community organizations: The Red Cross, the
Community Concert Association, the Y.W.C.A. and the Girl Scouts. Although
she performed all these tasks admirably, the same might be said for a host
of
hard working professional women and men across the state. Yet while many
faculty names have slipped into obscurity, Emma Lou Wilder remains an in-
stitution unto herself.
In the eyes of young women students drawn largely from the small towns
and rural areas of Wisconsin, Wilder's uniqueness was enhanced by her
eastern accent, her seemingly boundless energy, and her obvious love of
mountain climbing, field hockey and tennis. These characteristics were nur-
tured during early childhood on a farm in South Woodstock, Vermont.
Happy days on a farm home with trees to climb, animals to feed, horses to
drive-
learned to braid on a horse's tail  haylofts to jump in. Brooks and water
had a special
appeal. Special farm events helped to create a love for the out-of-doors.
Sugaring, hay-
ing, etc.
After working her way through Randolph Vermont State Normal School
by doing housework, Wilder obtained a position first in the rural schools
and
later in the Springfield City elementary schools. It was here that a friend
sug-
gested she pursue training in physical education. A first step was to complete
a one year course at the Posse School of Gymnastics in Boston. This enabled
her to secure a position on the Pittsburgh playgrounds while she continued
to
study at the University of Pittsburgh for the Bachelor of Science degree.
By the time Wilder arrived on the La Crosse campus in 1921, enabling
legislation had been passed in more than forty states making health and
physical education required subjects in the public schools. This was a reaction
in large part to the fact that an alarming number of men had been rejected
as
physically unfit for military duty in World War I. Consequently, the demand
for trained teachers contributed to a growing enrollment of physical education
majors at La Crosse.
One of Wilder's first projects was to organize a Women's Athletic Associ-
ation which came to be one of the school's most flourishing organizations,
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