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Fri, 06.23.1820

Aaron Hewlett, Physical Edu. Instructor born

Aaron Hewlett

*The birth of Aaron Hewlett is celebrated on this date, c. 1820. He was a Black college instructor and administrator.

Aaron Molyneaux Hewlett was born in New York City to Isaac and Rachel Hewlett. He lived in Brooklyn, worked as a Pullman porter, and taught boxing and wrestling. The New York Clipper, the leading New York sports paper, considered him "one of the best boxers in Brooklyn." in 1854, Hewlett quit his job as a porter and opened "Molineaux House," a sparring academy at his residence. In 1859, he became the first black instructor at Harvard University and oversaw the college's gymnasium.

Hewlett was the first superintendent of physical education in American higher education. He was an instructor and curator of the College gymnasium from its construction in 1859 until he died in 1871. Hewlett's instruction included using exercise equipment and clubs to strengthen the body. The 1866 portrait of him and his equipment, taken by George Kendall Warren, is the first known photograph of a medicine ball in the United States. After Hewlett worked at Harvard for ten years, a local Boston paper commented that Harvard's "Athletics have come almost to rank with Mathematics."

Hewlett participated in civic life and stood up against racial segregation. In addition to his work at Harvard, Hewlett was also part owner of a clothing and variety store on Brattle Street in Cambridge, where he sold gymnastic equipment. When he and his daughter were denied seats at the Boston Theater in 1866, Hewlett petitioned the Commonwealth of Massachusetts to enforce its laws better and revoke the licenses from establishments that illegally discriminated against African Americans. He married Virginia Josephine (née Lewis) Hewlett, a physical education instructor.

They had five children: Virginia Hewlett Douglass, a suffragist who married Frederick Douglass Jr.; Emanuel D. Molyneaux Hewlett, who became the first black graduate of the Boston University School of Law; Aaron; Paul Molyneaux, who became a renowned Shakespearian actor. Aaron Hewlett died in 1871.

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