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Emily V. Pittman, Professor Emeritus, was Chairman of the Women's Physical Education Department and Coach for women's field hockey, basketball and tennis from 1950-1976. In addition to her background, the interview discusses women's athletics at ODU, developments in the Physical Education Department, athletic scholarships for women, and the effect of women's liberation movement on athletics.


Oral History Interview
with
EMILY V. PITTMAN

Norfolk, VA
July 7, 1976

Listen to Interview

Question: This is James Sweeney of the Archives of Old Dominion University. Today, I am pleased to be interviewing Miss Emily V. Pittman, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Health and Physical Education in the School of Education. First of all, Miss Pittman, would you discuss your background, that is family, education and early career interests.

Answer: My family are English and Irish. One thing of particular interest, I think, is a deed that was given to my great grandmother by the king of England. There are three brothers and three sisters ... big family. As far as education, my undergraduate work was done at Madison College in Virginia. Later, I went to New York University and then got my Masters degree at William and Mary in Williamsburg.

Q: From 1935 to 1950, you taught women's health and physical education at Suffolk High School. Ultimately, you became the chairman of Physical Education Department at Suffolk. Two questions about that experience. First, could you discuss your career at Suffolk High School and what were the highlights?

A: My stay at Suffolk High School was a most enjoyable one. I enjoyed the--the young, vivacious people that I contacted, I enjoyed the relationship to the faculty, principal and so forth. As far as highlights, I did coach the women's basketball team and we went 50-some games without losing a game. I also coached the women's tennis team and, which was most unusual at that particular time, I coached a ... the boys' tennis team. The reason for that was the--the fact that a man was not available. So the young men asked me to help them. As it turned out, we went on to win the state doubles championship for the state of Virginia.

Q: Could you compare or contrast high school and college teachers based on your experiences at Suffolk and Old Dominion?

A: I wouldn't say that there is a great deal of differences between the two. Maturity, of course, is one seriousness of purpose is another. I don't believe the high school people are ... really know what their objectives are and they are beginning to be formed. But other than that, they have objectives, you have objectives and of course your procedures and evaluation just as you would in teaching college.

Q: Why did you leave Suffolk High School in 1950 to join the staff of the College of William and Mary in Norfolk?

A: In 1949, the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg offered me a job. This was after I had signed a contract for Suffolk and even though William and Mary told the school board that they would give them a qualified person for the job, the school board would not release me. So in 1950, the job became available at Norfolk College of William and Mary and that's when I applied and received the job.

Q: When you came to the Norfolk College of William and Mary, you were immediately made Chairman of the Women's Physical Education Department. How large was the department and what were your duties as chairman?

A: The department was very small. There were two men, and I replaced a person who had resigned. The duties of the chairman at that time was try to build the program up, which we did. At that particular time we had two years of required physical education. We required a team sport and individual sport. A course in dance and a course in swimming. Now later on that became optional and the students could take any of the activities that were offered.

Q: Could you describe the women's physical education program and the facilities that were available at the college in the early 1950's?

A: Of course at that time, we did not have a variety in the program because of lack of facilities and also lack of personnel. At that time, we had two gymnasiums, a pool and all the outside area that we needed, like fields for field hockey and softball and so forth.

Q: You coached women's team in tennis, field hockey and basketball. Could you review your coaching experiences? What were the best teams and do any of the students stand out in your memory as outstanding athletes?

A: Yes, I coached tennis, field hockey and basketball. I enjoyed coaching all of the sports. I don't know that I have a preference. As to best teams, I can't remember. As to outstanding athletes, there were so many that I would be reluctant to name any one or any five. They were all good.

Q: Perhaps you've already answered the next question, but did one of the sports appeal to you at the time more than the others?

A: Perhaps ... tennis appealed to me, even though tennis is a sport that takes quite a time to build up the fundamentals. At this early time, what we really had to do was teach the fundamentals when the students came to college and then those that excelled in those fundamentals would go on to be on the teams. I enjoyed all of them.

Q: During your tenure as chairman of the Women's Physical Education Department, did women's athletics occupy a subordinate role in the college's emphasis?

A: Yes, just as it did in every other department at the college. No more or no less.

Q: Could you explain why that was?

A: I really don't know. I suppose that men had to support the families and they didn't consider women in the primary role of a family at that time.

Q: Was it because women's athletics was not a revenue-producing sport?

A: That certainly could have been one reason, and the same thing exists today.

Q: In 1957, the college sponsored a co-rec day, that is an inter-school system, co-recreational sports day. Could you explain your participation in this event?

A: Yes, this--this was very interesting. I went to President Webb, who at that time was--was a real friend. He was a friend to all the faculty and I told him that I had an idea, if he could supply enough money for refreshments. So, I elaborated. He said "Great", this was the beginning of the co-rec day. It really was two- fold. Number one, we wanted to familiarize the high school students with the program. Number two, it was a fun thing for the students.

Q: And this involved the high school students coming to the college?

A: Yes

Q: What role did you play in the development of the four-year degree program in physical education?

A: My role was the same as the other members of the department. It was a cooperative effort. We reviewed programs in other colleges, added the courses gradually until we got exactly what we wanted.

Q: During the 1960's did women's athletics assume a more prominent role at the school than during the previous decade?

A: I don't know that it did. There were two purposes in mind, one was to give the exceptionally well- coordinated person an opportunity to participate with others of the same ability. The other purpose was a fun thing. It was--and it was on that basis that the athletic program for women was--was carried out.

Q: What courses did you teach during the last ten years you were at the college?

A: Well I taught quite a few, including History and Principles of Physical Education, Methods and Materials of Health Ed, Basketball, Volleyball, Tennis, Golf, and supervision of student teachers. I might like to say at this time that I think the public schools are in pretty pitiful shape. I think the reason for this is the permissiveness of parents, number one, and the lowering of standards by the school system.

Q: What was your opinion of the merger of the men's and women's physical education departments in 1970?

A: I suppose my initial thought was it wasn't a good idea. Because the women's department had been built up to about 12 women, including the part-time people. But as it worked out we integrated the classes as far as men and women in, say the same tennis class or the same golf class. This I enjoyed very much. I enjoyed teaching the men. I do think it would have been a much better idea to have separated and today to separate the athletic from the physical education program.

Q: Could you expand on that comment?

A: Well, I believe they are so different in purpose ... that they should be separated. Because in one--on one situation you have a coaching program, in the other you have a teaching program, and in my opinion these should be separated. In other words, we should have an Athletic Director that is just for athletics and a program chairman that is only concerned with the teaching program.

Q: Could you tell me about the ODU summer swimming program for girls, which you conducted for many years?

A: this was a most interesting experience. Of course, we handled it completely separate from the--the teaching program. It was a summer program and registration started January the first. And there were times when we had to have extra people in to help answer the phone. Because we had so many applicants. I actually had mothers to cry over the phone because they couldn't get their little girls in. Now at that time, I handled only little girls, and the boys ... little boys were handled by the men's department. I think one of the most gratifying things that happened during the summer swimming program was that we taught drown- proofing and a mother called me after having her child at the beach for an afternoon, and said that a wave swept her little girl out. And of course, she was panic stricken but in a little bit, the child was all right. And the first thing she told her was that she remembered what had been told her at the summer swimming program. Most satisfying, the whole program, if we could have saved just one life, which I hope we did.

Q: Would you--how would you compare or contrast your students of 1950 with those of today?

A: I really believe the students of 1950 knew more about where they were going and how to get there than students of today. Of course, they were a select group in the 1950's, everybody didn't go to college. Now we have freshman, sophomores, sometimes juniors, who really don't know in what direction they are headed.

Q: During the past few years women's athletics have recei--or has received much attention on the college level. What impact has the women's liberation movement had on women's athletics?

A: I suppose that one of the impacts of course, is ... is more money to carry out the program. We have scholarships now, which is something new for women. I am sure this will lead to more opportunities for students to participate in the various inter-collegiate activities.

Q: I wondered if you had on this question some comments about the effect of scholarships on women's collegiate athletics. Do you see a possibility that scholarships will lead to over-emphasis as it has in some cases with--in men's athletics?

A: I really don't know. This of course is hypothetical ... I know that there are in some parts of the country a great deal of emphasis put on women's athletics. I haven't been in those sections, so I really don't know. Sometimes this bothers me because I don't think the overall objective of women is to be terribly outstanding in athletics. Maybe for men but I've never heard a woman say that to be on an Olympic team was an objective. So, I don't know.

Q: Do you believe that women's athletics will attain parity with men's athletics on the college level?

A: No! For two reasons: interest as far as spectators are concerned and again going back to the general objectives of women.

Q: A question that I don't have listed, but which I think is of interest. About 1973 there was a major revision in the curriculum at Old Dominion University and one of the changes was the dropping of the physical education requirements. I wondered what your reaction was to that change.

A: I suppose at first I was a little bit concerned. But as it turned out we have more students interested in the variety of activities that we offer now than we did prior to that time. So, I think it's good.

Q: What is your assessment of women's athletics on the ODU campus today?

A: I think it's fine. I think they went--I think activities should be offered to--to all interest groups. We haven't mentioned Intramurals, but to me that is one of the big programs that should be stimulated because it's in these intramural programs that all have an opportunity to participate not just the gifted few.

Q: Did you develop intramural programs during your years as--in the department?

A: Yes we had intramural programs in every activity that we taught and a great deal of interest. We also have a great deal of interest today.

Q: Another question that I have thought of since making up the list. When black students began to come to Old Dominion, did they participate in the women's athletic program in proportion to their numbers?

A: Yes, it's just a case of those that were good participated . Those that were exceptional as far as coordination was concerned had the same opportunity to participate as the white students.

Q: Looking back now, what would you say have been your chief satisfactions in twenty-six years of teaching at the college?

A: That's a difficult question, but I suppose when you boil it down, it's the friends that were made and the fact that you had a part in developing a program, that you have satisfaction in knowing that you helped students progress in their life desires.

Q: Thank you very much Miss Pittman.

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