Edward DeGroot

Edward DeGroot

Edward DeGroot was a key player in the playground movement through his development of Chicago's South Parks, his national committee contributions, his lectures, his teachings, and his writings. A contemporary in the recreation field, Lebert Weir was impressed by Edward's “quiet power, fine personality, and executive ability.”1 In Edward's quiet, effective ways he was instrumental in establishing South Chicago parks and recreation centers, securing crucial funding for the fledgling Playground Association of America, popularizing the new sport of softball, defining playground terms, setting early standards in the usage of playground equipment, and developing the Los Angeles Boy Scout program.

By 1904, Edward was already well known as the General Director of Field Houses and Playgrounds of Chicago's South Parks Commission. He spoke at George Williams College that year about the development of the South Chicago public playgrounds. The following year, in 1905, ten neighborhood parks and community centers were completed in the South Parks District of Chicago.2 His achievements were noted as “epoch making” in the recreational field and President Theodore Roosevelt called such development “the most notable civic achievement of any American city.”3

Though the Playground Association of America was founded in Washington D.C., in 1907 their first Play Congress was held in Chicago and hosted by Edward. He organized a massive multi-cultural play festival and demonstration of games and dances by both boys and girls of all ages for the conference attendees. Edward's achievements with recreational spaces in South Chicago were also observed and studied.

The New York City based Russell Sage Foundation was so impressed by the Congress that they chose to fund the newly formed Playground Association, which in turn helped establish the playground movement in America.4 The Playground Association of America would eventually become the National Recreation and Park Association.

Edward was a firm believer in the recreational need of sports for youth. In 1908 he was urging the adoption of sport rules to require sportsmanship behavior from the players, and in 1909 he was promoting the formation of a competitive sports program for boys to counter the “social and ethical evils that defy us constantly.”5 During this time, Edward was also serving on the Playground Association of America committees Activities for Girls and Athletic Badge Tests for Boys.

One sport that he promoted was “playground ball,” which was originally known as “indoor baseball,” a game invented by George Hancock in 1887.6 In 1907 it began to be played in the playgrounds and thus was renamed playground ball. Edward wrote a detailed description of this new playground game in the March 1908 The Playground, the Playground Association of America's magazine, and the sport began to spread beyond Chicago. In the 1920s the sport's name was changed for the last time to “softball.”

As a result of the national attention brought by the 1907 Play Congress, Edward was asked to lecture at playground institutes in other cities. As he freely shared his experiences in establishing and maintaining park playgrounds, he was also careful to define consistently playground terms and what constituted a playground. This clarity facilitated the public's understanding and support of the playground movement. Edward defined playgrounds as both a place for children's play and a separate recreational area for young men, young women, and adults to relax. He understood the “social, educational, and civic relationships of the playground and the neighborhood it serves.”7

Another Playground Association of America committee that Edward served on was the Normal Course on Play committee. His involvement led to joining Dr. Henry Curtis in teaching a summer Normal Course on Play at the Lake Geneva Campus of the George Williams College in 1910.8 Over the next three years Edward continued to teach at the college and established the “Play and Playgrounds” course as a regular part of the curriculum.

The Equipment committee of the Playground Association of America was another area that Edward influenced. In 1910 the committee made an extensive report on the important function of play equipment at supervised public playgrounds. The following year Edward supplemented the report with an article, “A Practical Talk on Playground Equipment,” which was printed as a pamphlet. This distillation of the committee's findings was widely distributed and utilized as a standard for developing park playgrounds.

Drawing on his extensive experience, in the pamphlet Edward advised that equipment be “inclusive, attractive, and interest-sustaining.”9 He also gave details on constructing and maintaining play equipment such as sand boxes and wading pools. For purchased equipment, Edward included guidance on writing the contracts for the equipment and the necessary installation.

After a difference of vision with the Superintendent of the South Parks, Edward resigned in 1912 and became the secretary of the Playground Association of Chicago, an organization supplementing the work of Chicago's four park commissions. However, this organization of pioneer playground leaders soon folded and Edward moved on to the University of California to staff their Play School. That same year, 1913, he helped organize and was the chief speaker at the Pacific Coast recreation workers meeting held in San Francisco.

The San Francisco Board of Education asked Edward to develop a plan of school recreation which they subsequently adopted. In 1915 they made him the director of the new Department of Physical Education, Athletics, Social and Lecture Centers. At a recreational conference Edward gave a paper on “The Play of the School” and proposed that the schools become the administrative agency for community recreation – a controversial vision at that time.

As a part of the playground movement, over time Edward became concerned about the power-seeking individuals who were starting to exploit the popularity of playgrounds. He felt that “Park administration is a matter of human service, not a matter of business.”10 He was also concerned about the trend for acquiring playgrounds without proper maintenance and administration plans.

Later in life, in yet another avenue of youth development and recreation, Edward became an executive of the Los Angeles Boy Scout organization and assisted in developing the scouting movement in the area.

  • 1. Butler, George D. Pioneers in Public Recreation. Minneapolis, MN: Burgess Publishing Co., 1965. p. 45.
  • 2. Young, Jay D. and Kery Hays. “A Recreational Link with the Past and the Future.” George Williams College. < http://www.lib.niu.edu/1982/ip820714.html > 27 July 2012.
  • 3. Op.cit., Butler. p. 49.
  • 4. Op.cit., Butler. p. 45.
  • 5. Op.cit., Butler. p. 48.
  • 6. “Baseball, Indoor.” Encyclopedia of Chicago. < http://www.encyclopedia.chicagohistory.org/pages/116.html > 31 Aug. 2012.
  • 7. Op.cit., Butler. p. 48.
  • 8. Op.cit., Young.
  • 9. Op.cit., Butler. p. 46.
  • 10. Op.cit., Butler. p. 49.