Why Were High Schools Once Gymnasiums?

If you read the biographies of many of the great physicists of the late 19th into the early 20th century, they all came from Europe where a “high school” was known as a “Gymnasium”. Why was this? Perhaps athletics were more important than studies? And, when did the modern meaning of “Gymnasium” come about?

I don’t think this is an issue of ‘modern’ meaning. Gymnasium still means a secondary school in much of Europe.

In ancient Greece, the gymnasium was a place for both athletic and intellectual training. The word is used in some languages to refer to a school, for example in Germany, the meaning of the word is comparable to the American high school. In US English a gymnasium or gym is a room for athletics or exercise. It isn’t uncommon for the same word to mean different things in different languages or cultures.

I see… Now, I get it!

You got gymned.


All the best physics is done in the nude. That’s why I went into engineering instead.


Just a charming little tradition started by Archimedes.