Biography and History

Known to Princetonians as the founding father of intramural sports at Princeton, Joseph E. Raycroft was born on November 15, 1867, in Williamstown, Vermont, to William Raycroft and Eliza Kelty. He studied at Worcester Academy in Worchester, Massachusetts, from 1888-1892, where he served as a physical training and athletics instructor while a student. He entered the University of Chicago with the first graduating class of 1896 and earned his M.D. from Rush Medical College in 1899. That same year he married Sarah Elizabeth Butler. They had two children: Myla and Chauncey W.

Throughout his undergraduate years and while studying for his medical degree, Raycroft taught classes for the University of Chicago’s Department of Hygiene. He was promoted to an assistant professorship in 1899, to a full professorship in 1904, and for a period of twelve years was the University of Chicago’s medical director.

Raycroft became Princeton University’s chairman of health and physical education at the retirement of the first director, George Goldie in 1911. Raycroft held this post continuously until his retirement in 1936, when he was awarded emeritus status.

Raycroft made many important contributions to Princeton, including the development of a comprehensive student health program, the construction of the new Isabella McCosh Infirmary, and broadening the participation in intramural athletics to include some ninety per cent of Princeton’s student body. Before Raycroft’s arrival, Princeton athletics were considered a small part of a student’s life, and sports participation at Princeton was limited to the athletes on the University’s competitive intercollegiate teams. Raycroft’s fundamental goal was to encourage the average student to take part in these sports without forcing him to belong to the intercollegiate teams.

Raycroft applied the same philosophy to the training camp programs he established during the First World War. From 1917 to 1919, Raycroft served on the athletic division of the war department’s Committee on Training Camp Activities (also known as the Fosdick Commission) named after its chairman, Raymond B. Fosdick. The goal of the commission was to ensure that soldiers’ morale was kept high, whether they were stationed at home or abroad. It sponsored activities that promoted health, athletics, and recreation in order to “conserve the vitality of the men.” Raycroft introduced boxing and various other competitive sports to replace long-used calisthenics drills.

Because of Raycroft’s success with creating and developing various sports for use in the training camps, his book Mass Physical Training was adopted as the official manual of physical training in the Army. (He later served as chairman of the International Sporting Club where he applied those rules developed in the camps for boxing to the development of New York state’s boxing laws.) Raycroft was said by many to head the largest athletic program in the world’s history with the largest coaching staff that was ever assembled. His training service continued into the Second World War, when he served on the Council of Physical Training program for navy air cadets.

In addition to his national and civic duties, Raycroft devoted his life to the development of a personal library of rare books, prints, and memorabilia in the fields of medicine and sports. In May 1944, the old University Gymnasium, with his library in it, was destroyed by fire. Personal friends, Princeton alumni, and other academic institutions and organizations came together to donate some 1500 volumes to replace Raycroft’s library. In 1948, Raycroft was honored with the opening of the Joseph E. Raycroft Library in Princeton’s Herbert Lowell Dillon Gymnasium.

Raycroft served on many committees and associations for the study of student health and mental well being, and intercollegiate athletics. He was a member of the 1932 and 1936 Olympic Committees and in the latter year accompanied the American Olympic team to Berlin as vice president of the American Olympic Association. In 1941, he became vice president for the American Sports Federation. He also served as president of the Eastern Intercollegiate Basketball League and chairman of the National Collegiate Athletic Association’s rules committee. He was a medical consultant for New Jersey’s Department of Institutions and Agencies, a member of the New Jersey’s Committee on Mental Hygiene, and the president of the Board of Mangers of the New Jersey State Hospital for the Insane. In 1934, Dr. Raycroft received an honorary degree in physical education from Springfield College and was awarded a citation for public service by the University of Chicago in 1941. Dr. Raycroft died in Trenton, New Jersey, on September 30, 1955.

Source: From the finding aid for AC146

  • Joseph Raycroft Papers. 1888-1953 (inclusive), 1992 (inclusive).

    Call Number: AC146

    Joseph Edward Raycroft was Princeton University’s Chairman of the Department of Health and Physical Education. The Papers contain correspondence, writings, press-releases, reports, newspaper clippings, photographs, and memorabilia documenting Raycroft’s personal life and career. Also included are library catalog lists and other material related to Raycrofts Library of rare books and memorabilia

  • Joseph Raycroft Papers. 1888-1953 (inclusive), 1992 (inclusive).

    Call Number: AC146

    Joseph Edward Raycroft was Princeton University’s Chairman of the Department of Health and Physical Education. The Papers contain correspondence, writings, press-releases, reports, newspaper clippings, photographs, and memorabilia documenting Raycroft’s personal life and career. Also included are library catalog lists and other material related to Raycrofts Library of rare books and memorabilia