McKenzie, R. Tait (Robert Tait), 1867-1938

Alternative names
Birth 1867-05-26
Death 1938-04-28

Biographical notes:

R. Tait McKenzie, physician, physical therapist, physical educator, and sculptor served the University of Pennsylvania as its first Professor of Physical Education, 1904-1929.

Born in 1867, McKenzie spent his youth in Almonte, Ontario, Canada. He entered McGill University at the age of eighteen earning both his undergraduate degree and his M.D. degree (1892). His childhood friend, James Naismith, encouraged McKenzie to pursue interests in physical training, and McKenzie assisted Naismith at McGill in the teaching of gymnastics. McKenzie left McGill to begin his career at the University of Pennsylvania.

McKenzie's first efforts at sculpture resulted from his inability to find sculptured pieces that demonstrated points in lectures on anatomy. His series of four Masks of Facial Expressions (1902) was his first public endeavor in sculpture. His Sprinter (1902) and Athlete (1903) were initially inspired by the short lived, but internationally popular movement of anthropometry. The art world soon found much to criticize in this style, and McKenzie turned his attention to the study of European masters in an effort to address such criticism. By 1911, at the Roman Exposition, he began to see a growing respect and recognition from the art world.

McKenzie maintained a private practice while working as an educator and artist and was particularly interested in preventative medicine and rehabilitation. His tenure at Penn included the first appointment at any American university as a professor of physical therapy. During the World War I, he served as medical officer in charge of Heaton Park, Manchester, England, and in 1918 he published two books, Reclaiming the Maimed and A Handbook of Physical Therapy. The latter was adopted by British, Canadian, and American armed forces as the official manual of hospital rehabilitation.

His only sculpture completed during the war was Blighty, a representation of a young Seaforth Highlander on leave in France. After the war McKenzie was commissioned to do a number of memorials in England, Canada, and the United States. It was during the post-war era that McKenzie's great reputation was achieved. His work was exhibited at galleries world-wide. Demands placed on him by art commissions and exhibitions, coupled with his many speaking engagements on his concern over the mounting professionalism in college sports, prompted McKenzie to submit his resignation from his position as Director of Physical Education in 1929. The University offered McKenzie a one year leave of absence and upon his return appointed him the J. William White Research Professor of Physical Education, the first of its kind. He died in 1938 and was survived by his wife, Ethel O'Neil of Dublin.

From the description of Collection, 1880-1940. (University of Pennsylvania). WorldCat record id: 122365701


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Ark ID:


  • Rehabilitation
  • Relief, sculpture
  • Physical education facilities
  • Physical fitness
  • Physical education and training--Moral and ethical aspects
  • Rehabilitation technology
  • War wounds
  • Physical therapy--Study and teaching
  • Sculpture, Modern--20th century
  • Physical education for women
  • World War, 1914-1918--War work


  • Physical education teachers--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia
  • Physical therapists--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia
  • Physicians--Biography.--Pennsylvania--Philadelphia


  • England--Manchester (as recorded)
  • Canada (as recorded)
  • Pennsylvania--Philadelphia (as recorded)