Gym Changes Highlight Legacy of UT Women
By: Shadan Larki, Marisa Martinez, and Brianna Walker
Tucked away in the courtyard of the Neural Molecular Science building on Speedway is the Anna Hiss Gymnasium. Just by looking at it one couldn’t tell that famous dancers and bands used to warm up and perform in its dance studio when they were in town. Or visualize the hundreds of students who fill Room 136 on the first day of class as they attempt to snag a spot in the ever-popular social dance class taught by Campbell Miller. By the end of this semester, all faculty and staff offices as well as classes and student organizations that meet in the Anna Hiss gym will be gone.
Classes that took place in Anna Hiss will be moved to Bellmont Hall inside Darrell K Royal-Texas Memorial Stadium. However, Bellmont does not have as many rooms to make up for the loss of facility in Anna Hiss.
“We won’t have the space that we were accustomed to,” Anna Hiss building manager Tere Ramirez said. “We have three gyms; when we move over there we’ll only have one.”
One program that utilizes the dance rooms heavily is the social dance class, which enrolls approximately 400 students every semester at the beginning, intermediate, and advanced level. Miller estimates she will need to cut down enrollment by 40 percent for the spring semester since the class will be moved to a smaller room. ”
Anna had women’s physical education in mind and, being a female teacher, to me it’s very meaningful to be teaching in that building,” Miller said. “…it’s just disappointing on so many levels.”
Hiss served as the women’s director of physical education from 1921-56. During her time at the university, she helped start the physical education teaching degree program at UT and co-founded the Orange Jackets with Distinguished Alumna Margaret C. Berry.
Hiss also played an integral role in the construction of the women’s gymnasium, which would later be re-named in her memory.
According to Ramirez and Spirduso, Hiss was highly passionate about physical education and health for young women and was very determined to make the women’s gymnasium a reality.
“She was the one who traveled around the U.S. at her own expense looking for the best gyms and then coming together to make this facility,” Ramirez said.
In 1931 the gym was completed for $400,000 during the first years of the Great Depression in 1931. That’s the equivalent of $634,920 today.
Professor emeritus Waneen Spirduso, who took a class taught by Anna Hiss and later worked alongside her, said that Hiss was very set on focusing on health rather than competition. According to Spirduso, Hiss didn’t want the women getting into athletics competitively because it wasn’t fit for a lady at the time.
“This was during a time when people thought that if you ran back and forth down the basketball court a certain amount of times your uterus would fall out,” Spirduso said.
Classes in the theater and dance department have also had to adjust their schedules for next semester since they will all be sharing the same space in Bellmont instead of the various studios between Bellmont and Anna Hiss.
David Ray, associate vice president of campus planning and project management, said that while the possibility of re-purposing Anna Hiss has been discussed, nothing concrete is planned for the building at this time. Rumors of the Dell Medical School taking over the space have also been shot down by the school’s spokesperson, Steven Scheibal.
“The idea of repurposing Anna Hiss for the use of the science buildings around it has been discussed but that’s all,” Ray said.
Despite no plans being set, the Anna Hiss Gym will no longer be available for use after December 4, 2015. It is the only existing commemoration to Hiss’ life and legacy at the University of Texas at Austin.
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