College Athletes for Hire: The Evolution and Legacy of the NCAA's Amateur Myth

By Allen L. Sack; Ellen J. Staurowsky | Go to book overview

4
A Sport-for- Women Philosophy

THE EMERGENCE OF THE FEMALE ATHLETE: 1900-1920

During the first half of the twentieth century, while men's college sport acquired the customs, practices, and traditions that would eventually distinguish it as a professional and commercial enterprise, women's sport was undergoing a profound metamorphosis of its own. Within the vibrantly optimistic and forward-thinking atmosphere of the early 1900s, the New Women of the new age streamed into the paid workforce, reform movements, education, and athletics in numbers never before realized.

As some of the Victorian attitudes about inherent female weakness were pushed into the background, sport became one of an array of endeavors wherein women sought to discover their physical, social, and political potential. Out of this context of shifting expectations for women, the magnetic Eleanora Sears, considered to be the first true American sportswoman, burst onto the scene in 1905 with both daring and panache.1

Born into Boston's elite society and boasting a direct family tie to Thomas Jefferson, Sears's love of sport set her apart from other socialites. Blessed with social standing, financial means, and physical skill, Sears challenged notions that women would supposedly "fall apart nervously" if they engaged in strenuous sport. With ease, Sears distinguished herself in a variety of sports including tennis, golf, swimming, polo, squash racquets, and long-distance walking. As a figure of controversy in her time, Sears's reputation as an athlete was matched only by her utter disregard for convention and flare for taking on the establishment.2

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