Academic journal article The Sport Journal

A History of Women in Sport Prior to Title IX

Academic journal article The Sport Journal

A History of Women in Sport Prior to Title IX

Article excerpt

Abstract:

Women's opportunities for competitive physical activity were limited in America until Federal Legislation, commonly referred to as Title IX, became law. It required American society to recognize a woman's right to participate in sports on a plane equal to that of men. Prior to 1870, activities for women were recreational rather than sport-specific in nature. They were noncompetitive, informal, rule-less; they emphasized physical activity rather than competition. In the late 1800's and early 1900's, women began to form clubs that were athletic in nature. Efforts to limit women's sport activity continued as they became more involved in competitive sports. This paper will present a history of women's involvement in sport prior to the federal legislation enacted to eliminate sexual discrimination in education and sport.

Early Women's Sports

Certainly, women engaged in sport three millennia ago. Homer, c 800 B.C., relates the story of Princess Nausicaa playing ball with her handmaidens next to a riverbank on the island of Scheria. "When she and her handmaids were satisfied with their delightful food, each set aside the veil she wore: the young girls now played ball; and as they tossed the ball ..." (Homer, lines 98-102). Odysseus was awakened by the shouts of the girls engaged in their sport. Thousands of years later, the shouts of girls playing ball finally awoke the United States to the need for sport-specific opportunities for women.

Prior to 1870, sports for women existed in the form of play activities that were recreational rather than competitive and, being informal and without rules, emphasized physical activity (Gerber, Felshin, Berlin, & Wyrick, 1974). A dominant belief in the 1800s was that each human had a fixed amount of energy. If this energy were used for physical and intellectual tasks at the same time, it could be hazardous (Park & Hult, 1993). Horseback riding for pleasure, showboating, and swimming became fashionable, but women were not encouraged to exert themselves. Such physical activity for a woman was thought to be especially hazardous because during menstruation she was "periodically weakened" (Clarke, 1874, p. 100). In 1874, as women were beginning to gain access to higher education, Dr. Edward Clarke published Sex in Education; or, A Fair Chance for Girls, which sparked a tenacious and acrimonious debate about the capacity of women for physical activity. He stated that, "both muscular and brain labor must be reduced at the onset of menstruation" (p. 102). Manipulating science to reinforce established dogma prevailed for many years in spite of repeated examples of women who were perfectly capable of performing physical feats and intellectual tasks. Many early opportunities for women to engage in physical activity were thwarted as a result of this dogma (Park & Hult).

As more women sought to become involved in physical activity, they became more competitive. In the late 1800s and early 1900s, women began to form informal athletic clubs. Tennis, croquet, bowling, and archery were popular in clubs from New York to New Orleans. Many men's clubs allowed women to become associates and to participate in separate activities, though without according them full status. Parallel clubs in colleges began to appear during this time, but a major difference between the social metropolitan clubs and the college clubs was that the latter frequently sponsored coed competition as occasions for social gatherings (Gerber, et al., 1974).

College Sports for Women Prior to Title IX

Early college sports for women have been largely unrecognized by historians because competition was within college between students (intramural) rather than between the institutions (extramural). Competitions included intramural, club, and sorority matches, in addition to 'play days'. These were special dates when women competed in sports and activities against students and teams from their schools. …

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