Interest in the natural environment at and near Amherst began with the founding in 1822 of the Linnean Society, one of the first student groups established at the College. That organization and the Society of Natural History (founded in 1831) were dedicated to the study of the natural world, and members gathered botanical and geological specimens from the nearby fields and mountains. When Amherst opened its first natural history museum in The Octagon building on campus in 1847, the students donated their collections to the College.
Hitchcock led the first of many “geological excursions” on July 4, 1845, when students constructed a path up nearby Mount Holyoke. Similar excursions involved climbing mountains as far afield as Vermont, though most stuck closer to home—Mount Toby, Shelburne Falls and the Holyoke Range. President Hitchcock’s son continued to lead excursions throughout the 19th century.
In the middle of that century, the College began to celebrate Mountain Day, a day when classes were canceled so students could hike and picnic outdoors, and it has been observed on and off since then. An editorial in the Oct. 23, 1875, issue of The Amherst Student newspaper described the great love the students had for this holiday: “To visit, then, with this sense of freedom, any of the lovely spots which are clustered hereabout so thickly, is to gain not merely enjoyment, but benefit as well; and while lying upon one of these grand old hills, with the rich valleys spread out before you; the distant mountains just visible through the softening haze; and all about the foliage has that richness which is October’s own, there steals over you a wonderful feeling of restfulness, as if you were indeed ‘Under the walls of Paradise.’ To live thus, even for a day, is to come somewhat into harmony with Nature; is to receive a refining influence which, though unconscious, perhaps, is inestimable.”
The Mountain Club was formed in 1903 to “interest its members in the mountains and walks near Amherst, and to arrange excursions, and to bring its members into touch with the literature of mountain-climbing.” The club organized several outings each year, including the annual Mountain Day excursions; Amherst students also participated in the New England Trail Conference of 1917. The Mountain Club was replaced by the Outing Club, established in 1927, which organized excursions near and far, but most activities took place at Tyler Camp, a 10-acre site with a cabin on the southwest slope of Mount Toby in Sunderland, Mass. The land was given to the Outing Club by Professor John Mason Tyler, and the camp was dedicated on Dec. 10, 1927.
In 1926 the College acquired a large tract of land from Sidney White that was formally designated a Wild Life Sanctuary in the 1930s under the supervision of A.S. Goodale, professor of botany. Today, the Amherst College Wildlife Sanctuary includes approximately 500 acres in a diverse collection of open fields (both actively maintained and unmanaged), wetlands, flood plain woods, river, upland woods, plantation pines and ponds—and is an important place for both recreation and research.
Mountain Day, 1880s.
The Outing Club’s logo and some schedules from the 1900s.
Blake Field and Pratt Field were built in 1877 and 1892, respectively, when baseball and football were the main team sports. The 20th century would see a substantial expansion of athletics fields and facilities and the arrival of new sports, starting with the addition of a pool to Pratt Gymnasium in 1905. A swimming requirement was added to the curriculum shortly thereafter, and the College organized its first swim team for the 1907–08 season.
In addition to swimming, other sports were supported by new construction around this time. The first outdoor skating rink was built in 1907, which enabled the College to establish a hockey team the next year. Outdoor basketball courts were incorporated into Hitchcock Field, along with a baseball diamond and soccer fields.
The early 20th century is also the era when college athletics reached new levels of formal organization. The Intercollegiate Athletic Association of the United States (IAAUS) was formed in March 1906 and changed its name to the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) in 1910. The NCAA worked to standardize rules and address the many injuries and even deaths associated with college football at the time.
Cheerleading accouterments, the components of a track and field uniform and various hard-earned medals.
The track and field team, 1892.
Pratt Natatorium, ca. 1910
The 1921 swim team.
Pratt Rink, 1908.
By the time the College celebrated its Centennial in 1921, Amherst Athletics had evolved from student-organized competitions outside the control of the College into a significant presence in campus life, with standardized rules, national associations and support and guidance from the faculty and alumni.
President Alexander Meiklejohn raised serious questions about the role of college athletics, but by the early 1930s, the call went out for another new gymnasium nevertheless. After much activity at Amherst was suspended during World War II, the second half of the 20th century saw the athletics program grow and change substantially, particularly around the introduction of women student-athletes in the mid-1970s.
The Olio for 1920–21 includes the following sports teams: baseball, track, football, basketball, swimming, hockey, tennis, soccer and golf.
Informtion about the Alumni Gymnasium, 1936.