Hiss, Anna (1893–1972)

By: Judith N. McArthur

Type: Biography

Published: January 1, 1995

Anna Hiss, director of women's physical education at the University of Texas, was born in Baltimore on May 11, 1893, the daughter of Charles Alger and Mary Lavinia (Hughes) Hiss. She attended Hollins College in Virginia in 1912–13 and graduated from Sargent College (now Boston University) in 1917. After teaching for a year at the Friends' School in Baltimore, she became an instructor of physical education at the University of Texas in Austin. In 1921 she was made director of physical training for women. She immediately began to expand the playing fields and facilities for women's athletics and to plan the construction of a gymnasium. She spent vacation periods touring the country studying physical education facilities and over a period of ten years compiled plans and sketches, that were used in the construction of the Women's Gymnasium, considered a model facility when it opened in 1931.

At the same time, Hiss was enhancing the visibility of women's athletics on campus. She founded and directed the women's intramural sports program, promoted sports clubs, and played a major role in organizing a bachelor's degree program in the School of Education to train teachers of physical education. She spent four years planning the curriculum, which was approved in 1925, and lectured in the department for two years until a chairman was appointed. She initiated the practice of sending physical education majors into the public schools and parks as teaching assistants. She was advisor to a number of campus recreation and service organizations and chaired the university recreation committee for several years.

Hiss helped form the Texas Athletic Federation of College Women in 1923 and directed the state headquarters for four years. She was a founding member of the Texas Association of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation and was president in 1926–27; she also organized the state chapter of the National Amateur Athletic Association (Women's Division) in 1928. She served on the President's Committee of Fifty in the Second National Conference on College Hygiene in 1936 and chaired the Inter-American Relations Committee of the National Association of Physical Education for College Women from 1941 to 1947. Hiss was cochairman of the International Congress on the Physical Education of Girls and Women held in Copenhagen in 1949. She was recognized for outstanding contributions to the field of physical education by the American Association of Physical Education for College Women, the Southern Association of Physical Education for College Women, and the Texas Association of Health, Physical Education, and Recreation. During this same period she continued her own education, earning a B.S. degree from Columbia University in 1936 and doing graduate work at the universities of Colorado and Wisconsin, Stanford University, Columbia University, Mills College, and several foreign universities. Boston University awarded her an honorary doctorate in 1949.

Anna Hiss retired from the University of Texas in 1957, after thirty-six years of shaping an athletic program for women. She moved from Austin to Baltimore in the late 1960s. She never married. Her brother was Alger Hiss, who was investigated by the United States House Un-American Activities Committee and convicted of two counts of perjury for lying about his links to the Soviet Union. Anna Hiss maintained a discreet relationship with her brother to avoid drawing any attention to herself or the University of Texas. She died on January 28, 1972, in Baltimore. The women's gymnasium that she helped design at the University of Texas was renamed Anna Hiss Gymnasium in her honor. In the early 1990s it was a center of controversy between historical preservationists and the University of Texas regents, who had part of the gym demolished to make room for new construction.

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Dallas Morning News, August 31, 1990. Memorial Resolution for Anna Hiss, Documents and Minutes of the General Faculty, University of Texas at Austin, August 7, 1972. Vertical Files, Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, University of Texas at Austin.
  • Education
  • Educators
  • Physical Education, Home Economics, and Health
  • Sports and Recreation
  • Women

The following, adapted from the Chicago Manual of Style, 15th edition, is the preferred citation for this entry.

Judith N. McArthur, “Hiss, Anna,” Handbook of Texas Online, accessed May 28, 2022, https://www.tshaonline.org/handbook/entries/hiss-anna.

Published by the Texas State Historical Association.

January 1, 1995

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