Women in Sports History

Women in Sports History

Women in Sports History

Women in Sports History


Women are, and have been for many years, actively involved as players, supporters and co-ordinators in a range of sports and yet they are often missing from, or sidelined in, accounts of the history of these sports.

Commenting first on the lack of inclusion of women in British sports history, the book goes on to examine aspects of women's participation between the late-nineteenth century and the mid-twentieth century more broadly. It draws together some of the latest research undertaken by international scholars working in the field, and includes case studies about golf, bridge, rowing, figure skating and athletics.

Between them the chapters demonstrate that women enjoyed mixed fortunes in sport. They positively highlight the scope of participation, as well as the complex interactions and responses that participation generated on account of life stage, social class, ethnicity and national identity across time and place. The incorporated methodological and theoretical approaches invite readers to reconsider existing sport historiography and point to new directions for future research.

This book was first published as a special issue of Sport in History.


It is difficult to argue that sports history remains on the periphery of historical research. Rather, it might now be identified as occupying a positive niche position within the broader discipline of ‘history’ itself. In Britain this is largely thanks to the ongoing quality and breadth of publications, including the continued production of sports history journals, which has ensured the discipline’s credibility. Yet, in spite of this achievement, it is not unreasonable to assert that dedicated study of women in sports history remains a peculiarly neglected area of academic research in Britain.

Whilst it seems that the rise in status of sports history has been concomitant with a process which has seen sport attain incredible prominence within British culture particularly since the 1990s, this best evidenced by a burgeoning media presence domestically and globally, the contemporary drive to encourage more girls and women into sport and physical activity, coupled with the increasing visibility of women performing at elite level across a range of sports, has not apparently stimulated much enquiry into the historical experiences underpinning these respective developments. Furthermore, in spite of Jeff Hill’s observation that Andrew Davies’ groundbreaking Leisure, Gender and Poverty (1992) ‘points up one of the most overlooked aspects of British sport: the place in it for women’, the issue still remains the concern of very few. For example, a database search of Sport in History since 1993 quickly reveals a dearth of articles dedicated to the subject of women or gender relations in sport. As Hill also noted, ‘It is not simply a matter of “filling gaps”, but of confronting fundamental problems of epistemology.’ Certainly, the well-founded optimism that Patricia Vertinsky expressed in her 1994 overview of scholarship in the areas of gender relations, women’s history and sports history has not fulfilled its promise via new research since that date in the British context.

Indeed, on the strength of submissions offered and ultimately received for this collection, the European and North American research scenes presented as more vibrant. Moreover, in the 15 years since Vertinsky’s overview there is a sense in which the state of women’s sports history has remained largely dependent upon the innovative works therein identified. From that position of strength, laid by the likes of Vertinksy herself, Sheila Fletcher, Jennifer . . .

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