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Interpreting the Evidence

Children Play Basketball, Riverside Park, Albany, 1912

  • Documents in this Activity:
  • Historical Eras:

    Turn of the Century and WWI (1890 - 1930)

  • Thinking Skill:

    Historical Analysis & Interpretation

  • Grade Level:

    Lower Elementary
    Upper Elementary
    Middle School
    High School
    College University

  • Topics:


  • Primary Source Types:


  • Regions:

    Capital District
    New York State

  • Creator:

    NYS Archives Partnership Trust Education Team

  1. Load Children Play Basketball, Riverside Park, Albany, 1912 in Main Image Viewer

Suggested Teaching Instructions

Document Description
Boys play basketball at Riverside Park in Albany, New York, 1912.
Historical Context
The first playground in New York was established in the late 1800s.  More playgrounds were built at the beginning of the 1900s to meet the needs of people who lived in cities.  It was believed that city residents, specifically the working class, needed recreational activities on a daily basis.  People thought that recreation and playgrounds were especially important to the health, fitness, and character development of children.  Parks built during this time period included recreational buildings, play fields, outdoor equipment, and sand lots.  Many of the playgrounds even had directors to organize and supervise playground activities such as organized games and sports for children.  Organized activities often separated the boys and the girls.  By 1920, cities in the United States had spent more than $100 million on playgrounds and playground programs.

One of the most influential promoters of recreation in the late 1800s and early 1900s was Luther H. Gulick.  Gulick was the first director of physical education in the New York City public schools, and he was instrumental in founding several organizations that promoted healthy living, physical education, and recreation, such as the American School Hygiene Association, the Public School Physical Education Society, the Playground and Recreation Society of America, and the Boy Scouts.  In 1911, he and his wife founded the Campfire Girls, because they thought girls should be involved in recreational activities, too.  

In 1891, while working as director of the gymnasium department at Springfield College in Massachusetts, Gulick gave a student, James Naismith, an assignment to invent a game.  The game Naismith invented for Gulick was basketball.  Basketball became very popular in urban areas.  Other sports that also became popular at this time were baseball, handball, volleyball, track, and swimming.

Essential Question
How does the existence of leisure time influence culture and economy?
Check for Understanding
Describe the scene in the photograph and explain how leisure time changed the American culture and economy.
Historical Challenges
Research how playgrounds helped in developing community.
How are playgrounds funded?
Research the number of elementary schools that do not offer recess to their students.
Interdisciplinary Connections
English Language Arts: Write a postcard to a friend describing your day at the park.
Physical Education: Design a new piece of equipment for today’s playground.