Ames native Winifred Tilden played an important role in the development of women’s physical education at Iowa State University. She was the first true pioneer of women’s athletics at Iowa State during her tenure on campus from 1904-44. The daughter of George and Lydia Tilden, Tilden attended Ames schools and then enrolled at Mt. Holyoke College, earning her degree in 1903.
At the age of 23, Tilden became the first professionally trained director of physical education for women at Iowa State in 1904. Her title then was “Directress of Physical Culture,” as it was a part of the Department of Speech.
Tilden brought to the Iowa State campus ideas she learned in her travels and studies of various physical education programs throughout the world. She studied programs in England and France, introducing the May Day Pageant and May Pole dances in 1911 that later became a part of VEISHEA after 1922. From 1918-19, she was on leave to direct recreational programs for American soldiers in France. She served on a number of national physical education committees where she was a pioneer in advocating competitive sports.
During her tenure she introduced competitive sports, which in 1915 were organized in a “Girls Athletic Club.” She developed a progressive curriculum of developmental and corrective gymnastics and organized the Women’s Athletic Association and Women’s “A” Club (which later changed to the “I” Club). Hockey, basketball tennis, swimming, archery and golf were among the activities offered by the department.
Tilden was also instrumental in helping Iowa State implement its first on-campus golf course. In 1914 a four-hole golf course was built near the intersection of Lincoln Way and Beach Avenue. Tilden supervised the course and it was one of the many physical education outlets Tilden provided for women in the early 20th century.
Tilden’s competent and enthusiastic instruction combined spontaneous recreation with definite physical benefits. Her students numbered less than a hundred in 1904 and were in the thousands when she retired in 1944. Until 1938 women’s physical education was centered in Margaret Hall, the first women’s dormitory on the Iowa State campus. The large dining hall in that building was converted into a well equipped gymnasium facility, and a women’s swimming pool was added in the 1920s.
One of Tilden’s dreams came true in 1939 when a long standing request for a well designed, well equipped women’s physical education building became a reality. She had first presented plans for a new women’s building in 1925 during President R.A. Pearson’s term. The building, dedicated in 1941, is the south unit of today’s much enlarged Forker Building. Tilden died on July 4, 1948 having contributed to the lives of 10 college generations of co-eds.