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SUB-SERIES Identifier: UAV 689.270 and UAV 689.270.1

Records of the Department of Physical Education : anthropometric measurements of Harvard students, 1860-1920


These data cards contain the anthropometric measurements of thousands of Harvard students who were subject for research directed by Dudley Allen Sargent.


  • Creation: 1860-1920


Physical Description

approximately 20,500 cards

Conditions on Use and Access

There are no restrictions on access to the data cards. Related materials are restricted.

These data cards are stored in an off-site facility. Researchers are advised to contact Reference Staff of the Harvard University Archives for more information concerning retrieval of material.


7 cubic feet
34 boxes

These cards comprise a portion of the total research data collected under the auspices of the Harvard University Dept. of Physical Education to support Sargent's research. The research subjects from which data on these cards were collected were students of Harvard College and some of Harvard's graduate schools.

Each measurement card notes detailed measurements of the subject's body and lists some genealogical and family health information as well. This information often includes the subject's birth date and place, subject's father's occupation, and both the nationalities and the causes of death of the subject's parents.

A parallel series of photographs exists in the Harvard University Archives. The number on the data card matches the number on the photograph.

Biographical / Historical

Dudley Allen Sargent's zeal for the study of perfection launched a data collection process at Harvard that extended to every entering freshman for almost half a century. In his effort to find research subjects for "anthropometric measurements," measurements of the human body, he enlisted the help of the Dept. of Physical Education. Incoming Harvard students from the mid-nineteenth to the early twentieth century were carefully measured. Parallel data on each student's physical condition was collected in the form of photographs. Students appear in the nude, standing next to a measuring stick. Views were taken from the student's side, front, and back.

Sargent (1849-1924) was an early innovator in physical education. His long association with Harvard included his years as Director of the Hemenway Gymnasium at Harvard from 1879 to 1919. During this time, he also established and taught at the Harvard Summer School of Physical Education.

Sargent also established a private gymnasium in Cambridge, Massachusetts, known as the Sanatory Gymnasium. At the Sanatory Gymnasium, he directed an exercise program for the female Harvard students until 1892. These were students who studied in the Harvard Annex, which later became Radcliffe College.

He also conducted physical education teacher training courses, which eventually became the Sargent College of Physical Education, and was later associated with Boston University.

Sargent went to great lengths to research the perfect proportions of the human body, using his Harvard and other connections to procure research subjects and data. He had three ways of obtaining subjects for anthropometric measurement. He recorded and/or collected sets of anthropometric measurements from his Harvard students, Sargent School pupils, and Sanatory Gymnasium clients. He also sent individuals blank data cards, on which their measurements could be recorded, and responded with an assessment or chart of their condition. Finally, Sargent's students and colleagues returned to their home institutions, found research subjects, recorded their measurements, and sent completed data cards back to Sargent.

Acquisition Information

Accession number: 14492.

Related Material in the Harvard University Archives

  1. Records of the Dept. of Physical Education relating to anthropometric data on Harvard students, especially
  2. ___Numerical index to the data cards (UAV 689.270.3 Restricted)
  3. ___Name index to the data cards (UAV 689.270.2 Restricted)
  4. ___Photographic prints and glass negatives (UAV 689.270.7 and UAV 689.270.7.1 Restricted)
  5. Publications by and about Dudley Allen Sargent and about the Dept. of Physical Education cataloged in HOLLIS.

To read more about the measurement process, see:

Bowls, Gordon Townsend. New Types of Old Americans at Harvard and at Eastern Women's Colleges. Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1932. Call number: HU 137.399 Bennett, Bruce Lanyon. The Life of Dudley Allen Sargent, M.D., and His Contributions to Physical Education. Thesis (Ph. D.)--University of Michigan, 1947. Call number: HUG 1768.15.2 (microform)

Inventory update

This document last updated 2016 February 17.

Processing Information

Processed March 2002 by Barbara Meloni.

Harvard University. Department of Physical Education. Records of the Department of Physical Education : anthropometric measurements of Harvard students : an inventory
Language of description

Repository Details

Part of the Harvard University Archives Repository

Holding nearly four centuries of materials, the Harvard University Archives is the principal repository for the institutional records of Harvard University and the personal archives of Harvard faculty, as well as collections related to students, alumni, Harvard-affiliates and other associated topics. The collections document the intellectual, cultural, administrative and social life of Harvard and the influence of the University as it emerged across the globe.

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