Body of Work

The unique gifts of powerlifters Jan and Terry Todd add a lot of weight to the world of sport culture.
Jan Todd holding a photo of her husband Terry Todd
Photo: Marsha Miller

As a student at The University of Texas at Austin in the 1950s, Terry (B.A. ’61, Ph.D. ’66) discovered weight training as a way to build strength and size. His interest in big weights led to a fascination with big accomplishments on and off the lifting platform, and eventually sparked Jan’s (Ph.D. ’95) own achievements as a pioneer of strength. But the Todds’ biggest feat was founding UT’s H.J. Lutcher Stark Center for Physical Culture and Sports — the top archive and museum in its field, made possible by Jan and Terry’s planned, collection and estate gifts from the 1990s to now.

The Strongwoman

Jan and Terry met in 1970 and, as she remembered at his memorial service, “he looked like no man I’d ever seen before — for he was the first person I’d ever met who trained seriously with weights.”

A few years later, the newly wed Jan tagged along with Terry to the gym and saw a woman performing an exercise called a deadlift. Inspired and curious, she asked Terry about lifting heavier weights. Jan broke her first world record in just 18 months.

A color photo of Jan Todd powerlifting weights and another black and white photo of her with Terry on her shoulders
At the height of her powerlifting career, Jan hit dizzying personal records, like this 1,000-pound partial deadlift (left). She was named the world’s strongest woman by outlets like People magazine, which showed her lifting Terry in a January 1979 issue (right, photo by Dale Wittner). Courtesy of Jan Todd

During her powerlifting career, which spanned the mid-1970s to early ’80s, she set more than 60 national and world records, broke the gender barrier as the first woman to lift Scotland’s Dinnie Stones — a traditional test of strength and manhood — and was recognized as the strongest woman in the world by outlets like Sports Illustrated and “The Tonight Show.” Jan was integral to women’s admission to competitive powerlifting and chaired the sport’s national and international women’s divisions. She is also likely the only UT faculty member ever to appear at state fairs doing a strength act in which she bent railroad spikes and drove nails through a board with her hand. “It was a whole different Jan, as you can imagine,” she says.

The Idea

“Dreaming is the easy thing,” Terry wrote in a 1976 diary entry. Since his time as a doctoral student at UT in the 1960s, he’d been dreaming of a way to preserve the books, magazines, photographs, scrapbooks, correspondence and other materials that comprised the history of physical culture around the world and of varsity athletics at UT.

Terry used one such collection, owned by vaudeville strongman, author and collector Ottley Coulter, to write his dissertation. When Coulter died in 1975, Terry was offered the chance to purchase it. “He said, ‘If I don’t do it, I’ll feel bad for the rest of my life. We have to save it,’” Jan recalls.

They did, and Jan and Terry kept collecting, imagining that someday their materials would become the foundation of a research library at a major university like UT.

The Homecoming

In 1983, Terry joined the faculty of UT’s Department of Kinesiology and Health Education. Jan began processing their nearly 400 boxes of accumulated materials, started work on her doctorate in American studies and taught weight-training classes full time.

“Thousands of people learned to lift weights from Terry and me through those years,” Jan says. “It’s really remarkable how many people have continued to reach out and tell me they remember the class, and in some cases are still doing the same workout!”

In 1991, the Todds began donating parts of their collection to the University and planning to ensure its future. Scholars from around the world were already visiting UT to use the Todd-McLean Physical Culture Collection, which was first housed in Gregory Gym and then the basement of Anna Hiss Gym.

Still, Terry and Jan kept dreaming of a day when they could properly house and staff the collection. Their dream became a reality when then-Athletics Director DeLoss Dodds agreed to allocate them space in UT’s new North End Zone building. With leadership gifts from the Nelda C. and H.J. Lutcher Stark Foundation and Joe and Betty Weider, the Todds finally moved their collection into the Stark Center, which opened in 2009.

Harvey Penick’s original “Little Red Book”
The Stark Center, which is celebrating its 15th year in 2024, holds the Todds’ unparalleled strength and physical culture collections as well as the archives of Texas Athletics. Visitors and researchers have access to irreplaceable artifacts like Harvey Penick’s original “Little Red Book” and Clyde Littlefield’s scrapbooks. Courtesy of the Stark Center
Those acts of generosity transformed the Todds’ collection into an official research center, a hub for study in the field, and the world’s preeminent archive of its kind. Today, the Stark Center houses hundreds of thousands of books, photographs, films and other artifacts, including the archives of Texas Athletics, which Jan calls “an incredible treasure.”

Jan and Terry led the Stark Center as co-directors until Terry’s passing in 2018. “We started as collectors,” says Jan, who now directs the center and serves as department chair. “But this was Terry’s dream, and I’m here to finish it.” Jan has made a plan for the Todds’ estate to support the future of the Stark Center, which only makes their legacy — in the exploration, documentation and preservation of physical culture — that much bigger.

“Terry was the idea guy, and he had great ideas,” she says. “I figured out how to make them happen. We were a great team.”

Texas Leader Magazine

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