Physical education, originally called physical culture, began as hygiene and physiology instruction taught by the college’s resident physician. Yet, it was not until 1921 that a Department of Physical Education was created, with Mary Channing Coleman serving as the first department head. Following the sudden death of Coleman in 1947, Ethel L. Martus succeeded her as the new department head. In the 1940s, the first graduate work in physical education was offered in dance. The program expanded its graduate offerings in the 1950s; the 1949 MFA degree in dance was followed by the 1951 master of education in PE and 1959 master of science. In 1966, a doctor of education in physical education was officially established.
In 1963, the Department of Physical Education merged with the Department of Health to form the Department of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation. Intramural and intercollegiate athletics, financed by student fees, served as non-academic divisions. This multi-division department gained school status in 1971, with the establishment of the School of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance (HPERD). Martus was named dean of the new school.
The school officially offered a Ph.D. in physical education in 1987. This new doctoral degree replaced the previous Ed. D.
In 1991, HPERD became the School of Health and Human Performance.
Deans of the School of Health, Physical Education, Recreation, and Dance:
- Ethel Lawther Martus (1971-1974)
- Margaret A. Mordy (1974-1979)
- Richard A. Swanson (1980-1991)