The Athletic Plant

Map of Michigan Athletics

A map of the current athletic campus at the University of Michigan. 

When Fielding Yost became the Athletic Director at Michigan in 1921, he spearheaded the development of a program he called “Athletics for All,” establishing gymnasiums, facilities for women, and other play spaces throughout the university. The goal was to ensure that each of the university’s 10,000 students, not just varsity athletes, had access to recreational activities.   Pointing to the technological advances of the Industrial Revolution, Yost believed that many students had likely grown up without having to do manual labor.[1] Yost thus asserted that it was essential for all of Michigan’s students to participate in physical activity while enrolled at the university.  The athletic plant “that Yost built,”[2] grew to be one of the most expansive in the country and served as the model for other universities’ athletic campuses.

Yost argued that in the past, individuals had improved their bodies through physical work. Today, he claimed, infants needed “intelligent programs of physical education to ensure their growth and maturation.[3] In a speech titled “Necessity for Exercise,” Yost illustrated how technology, despite its many conveniences, inhibited the imminent role of exercise that Americans had experienced in their everyday lives through work. It was up to the University to plan and carry out a physical training and recreation program as well as to provide facilities to “furnish the exercise that once was an incidental but inevitable part of nearly everyone’s life.”[4] Yost’s campaign demonstrates that the University believed it was its duty to improve its students’ physical health in addition to academic training.

In a speech given at the Board in Control of Intercollegiate Athletics meeting on May 31, 1924, Yost detailed a few “immediate and pressing needs,” such as a gymnasium with swimming pools, an improved facility for intramural athletics, an increase in the seating capacity at the football stadium, and the establishment of a university golf course.[5] By the end of the decade, he would accomplish those goals.



[1] “Necessity of Exercise” by Fielding H. Yost, Director of Intercollegiate athletics, Speeches #1, Box 6 Fielding Harris Yost Papers, University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library, Ann Arbor, MI.

[2] “A Toast to Yost from Coast to Coast,” Scrapbook, Box 7 Fielding Harris Yost Papers, University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library, Ann Arbor, MI.

[3] “Necessity of Exercise” by Fielding H. Yost, Director of Intercollegiate Athletics, Speeches #1, Box 6 Fielding Harris Yost Papers, University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library, Ann Arbor, MI.

[4] Ibid.

[5] “A Brief Report and some suggestions by Fielding H. Yost, Director of Intercollegiate athletics, Speeches #3, Box 6 Fielding Harris Yost Papers, University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library, Ann Arbor, MI.

The Athletic Plant