Lisa Birnbach

It started with this picture

I saw it on Facebook, posted by Bronwen Hruska, someone I don’t actually know, but whose educational pedigree is impeccable.  I was thus moved to write on her page/wall/air — and have a tiny bit more to say.

Bronwen posted this photograph and asked if anyone knew what it was.  Of course, lots of us knew it was something worn for gym a century ago.  Some referred to it as “bloomers,” others of us called it a “gym suit.”    I think we called them gym suits, but I don’t recall ever owning one.  I think the older girls had them, because I think I saw pictures of them playing volleyball in them in old yearbooks.

Then I remembered something else — (maybe this gym suit is my madeleine) — and that was a game we had to play at my girls’ school called Newcomb.  

Gym suits, newcomb…. have I entered a dream state?  Is this real or did I make it up?  Wikipedia says:

Invented in 1895 by Clara Gregory Baer, a physical education instructor at Sophie Newcomb CollegeTulane University in New Orleans, it rivaled volleyball in popularity and participation in the 1920s.[1] The game is significant because it was invented by a woman and became the second team sport to be played by women in the United States, after basketball.[2] In an article in the Journal of Sport in 1996, Joan Paul speculates that Newcomb ball may have been an influence in the development of volleyball.[2]


Now back to Lisapedia:

Newcomb was volleyball without the hitting or spiking.  You threw and caught the ball.  I liked it so much better.  It was volleyball de-clawed.   For gym (and we never called it “P.E.”), we wore tunics and bloomers.  Even when I transferred to a coed high school, we wore tunics and bloomers.  Never shorts.

Some questions for you:

Did any of you play Newcomb as young athletes?  Did boys ever play it?  Why was every educator in the early days of girls’ schools called something like  Clara Gregory Baer?

It’s pouring on our last full day on Martha’s Vineyard, but indoor days are so restful.

Love to hear from you,


Lisa