unsavory amusements. The solution to resist these threats was regular, vigorous exercise conducted in a wholesome Christian atmosphere. The influential mid-century Presbyterian minister Henry Ward Beecher was convinced that there existed a close connection between a vigorous life and moral development. He argued that activities such as
swimming, rowing, horseback riding, gymnastics, and baseball were conducive to moral as well as physical development, and he urged religious and civic leaders to “give to the young men of our cities the means of physical vigor and health, separated from temptations of vice.” 22 A chorus of voices arising from leading intellectuals and the Protestant clergy embraced Beecher's call for reform. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry Longfellow were but a few of the prominent individuals who encouraged boys and young men to pursue a vigorous lifestyle. As this movement gained momentum, no voice was heard more clearly than that of the Reverend Thomas Wentworth Higginson, a graduate of Harvard Divinity School. Writing in Atlantic Monthly in 1858, he denounced the perception that “physical vigor and spiritual sanctity are incompatible.” Higginson argued that good health was “a necessary condition of all permanent success” because it enabled men to confront the challenges of life. He expressed his fear that in the new urban environment, young boys were greatly influenced by overly protective mothers because working fathers had little time to spend with them; the result was a growing softness, even effeminacy, among young American males. He chided parents whose sons were “puny, pallid, sedentary” for encouraging them to select a career in the ministry or other nurturing professions. Acknowledging that girls also benefited from exercise, Higginson nonetheless said that only strong men could build a strong nation and that protective mothers could do lasting damage to their sons by sheltering them from the dangers of childhood: As the urchin is undoubtedly physically safer for having learned to turn a somerset and fire a gun, perilous though these feats appear to mothers, – so his soul is made healthier, larger, freer, stronger, by hours and days of manly exercise and copious droughts of open air, at whatever risk of idle habits and bad companions. Muscular Christianity enjoyed substantial growth in popularity with the passing of the years. One tangible result was to increase the role and scope of physical education and competitive sports programs in the public schools and to sustain the creation of such new institutions as the Young Men's Christian Association (YMCA) and the Boy and Girl Scouts. The YMCA movement was founded in England in 1844 and spread to the United States before the Civil War. Initially, its primary target was unmarried young men who had left rural America for the city in search of better economic and social opportunities.
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