Dorette Wilkie

(1867—1930) promoter of women's physical education

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(1867–1930) An influential physical educator who was one of the shapers of women's physical education in late 19th-century England. Born in Magdeburg, Prussia, as Dorette Wilke, and arriving in England as a weakly young woman in 1885, her spinal defect was cured by training at the Adolf A. Stempel gymnasium in London, and she began teaching the benefits of exercise and physical education. Appointed to the staff of Battersea Polytechnic in 1891, she moved in 1896 to the South Western Polytechnic, Chelsea, London, and in 1898 started a gymnastic teachers' training department: as headmistress, Wilkie reigned over what was to become the Chelsea College of Physical Education for 31 years. Naturalized as a British subject in 1908, she also changed her surname to Wilkie, and became known as ‘Domina’; bolstering this British identity, a close association with Cecil Sharp included joint provision of morris dancing teaching (1909), and support for his English Folk Dance Society (1911), including demonstrations on national tours by Chelsea students of dances discovered by Sharp. The curriculum was broadened into the science of movement—physiology, anatomy, psychology—in that first expansive decade, and Wilkie insisted upon a strict dress code. Wilkie combined philanthropic activity within her vision: ‘In 1902 she instituted Saturday games in Battersea Park for deprived children, and Chelsea students taught at London working girls' clubs’ (Gill Clarke and Ida M. Webb, Oxford Dictionary Of National Biography, 2004). After evacuation to West Wales during World War II, the ‘Founder’ Wilkie's Chelsea College was relocated at Eastbourne and survives there as the Chelsea School in the University of Brighton's Faculty of Education and Sport.

From A Dictionary of Sports Studies in Oxford Reference.

Subjects: Sport and Leisure.

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