This Week in Amherst History

Amherst boasted its strongest freshman class ever 88 years ago, with various strength tests proving the extreme athletic abilities of the young men of the class of 1916.

These “exceptionally interesting” results included outstanding numbers in height, weight, lung capacity and total strength.

The central attraction of the class of ’16 was Harold Lusk “Skyscraper” Gillies, “the third tallest man that ever came to Amherst,” measuring up at six feet, 4.7 inches.

When compared to the sophomores in the class of 1915, the freshmen excelled in most categories. The average freshman was aged 19 years and 23 days, weighed 136 pounds, was five feet and 8.7 inches tall, had a lung capacity of 3.988 liters and boasted a total strength of 546.7.

There is no report on whether or not academic standards were lowered so these jocks could be admitted.


Artistic culture flooded Amherst 67 years ago, when Ted Shawn “and his men dancers” performed in front of a packed College Hall. The point of this “thoroughly enjoyable program of dances” was to emphasize the masculinity of the art of dance-to demonstrate, “without belittling the female contributions,” that dancing is “essentially masculine.”

“This tour is sort of a mission,” he said, “to put masculine dancing where it has always belonged and where it has not been in modern times.”

Throughout the performance, Shawn fielded questions about the types of dancing that he was performing, and explained uncommon concepts to the audience.

The evening ended on a comic note when the men performed the “Flamenco Dances,” described as “a sort of Spanish tap dance.”


The College experienced one of its most historically notable moments 37 years ago when, on Oct. 26, President John F. Kennedy delivered a speech at the ground-breaking ceremony for Frost Library, less than a month before he was assassinated.

He gave a brief address, but “preferred to leave the spadework to the other seven men,” President Calvin Hastings Plimpton and six alumni.

The speakers made statements about both experiences at the college and the new library’s namesake. Robert Frost, who had been a professor at the College, died earlier that year.

Kendal DeBevoise ’35 said that although the old Walker Hall was a building that “all Amherst men came to love,” Frost library would “symbolize the past, present and future.”

Chairman John McCloy ’16, the former High School Commissioner of Germany, expressed his happiness at Walker Hall’s destruction saying, as he pointed at the ground, “I flunked a course-mathematics-right there.”

Kennedy added a gripping description of the poet: “I was always impressed by his toughness. He was very hard-boiled in life, though not belligerent. He felt this country should be a country of power and force.”