Women in Sports 19th and 20th Century

Jen Pearlstein December 2, 2010 Kin 305 Women in Sports 19th and 20th Century Women’s participation in sports has changed over the centuries. In ancient times, men dominated societies. Women were viewed as the caretaker, a provider for life. Women who did participate were criticized and were thought of as threatening. In 18th century America, women were considered inferior to men because of the belief that women are the weaker sex. A woman’s purpose in life was to take care of the house, children, and husband.
When they did want to participate in recreational sport, they need to be able to negotiate with men and with other women because societies did not make it easy for women to participate. For example, there was a woman who wanted to go sailing, but to do so she needed to deal with the owner of the boat, her husband and a neighboring couple, who was to accompany her, to do so. By the 19th century, there was a cultural shift for women. Women became frustrated with their role in society as house -keepers and caretakers and wanted to experience more with their life.
They wanted to pursue educational and athletic opportunities to expand their role outside the home. At that time, however, there was opposition towards women participating in sports and receiving an education because they believed it would cause damage to their reproductive organs. Also, it was believed that sport developed manliness, a trait women should not process. But when women were given an education, it was shown that they could handle the ability to endure rigors of education, which helped them form a sense of independence and help provide athletic opportunities.

Because of these growing opportunities, exercise for women became very popular and gained credibility. Catherine Beecher was one influential person in regards to physical education for women. She and Dioclesian Lewis developed the 1st women physical education programs to promote women’s health. They developed what is known as calisthenics, which is similar to Pilates. Colleges like, Wellesley College, started to require calisthenics and sports as part of their curriculum.
Among the wealthy, outdoor activities such as archery, tennis, and golf became creditable and evolved into national associations, which sponsored the first national championships for women in those sports. Senda Berenson’s introduction of basketball to women in 1892 caused coeducational colleges, women’s colleges, and other schools to organize women’s teams across the United States. The three women who plotted the initial course of physical education and athletic competitions were Blanche M Thrilling, Mabel Lee, and Agnes Wayman.
They were the leaders of women’s participation in athletics. However, Thrilling did provide the most leadership of the group. She organized a meeting to discuss the participation of women in sport. During this meeting the Athletic Conference of American College Women (CWA) was formed. However, they did not support the intercollegiate athletics for women. The reason why they opposed to intercollegiate athletics was because it led to professionalism, it was expensive, required coaches, and it led to nerve fatigue according to the organization.
Because of the opposition of intercollegiate athletics for women, a way for them to compete against another school was through play days or sport days. Three or more colleges would meet for competition and would divide themselves up into teams without the school colors. This was the only form of intercollegiate competition that was available for women. These play day and sport days caused an increase in the involvement of women in sporting events.
This led to the formation of organizations like the national committee on Women’s Sports, to provide rules and standards for athletic participation for women and girls. The AAU, Amateur Athletic Union, which was under the control of men, took control over women’s athletics. This stirred up conflict amongst physical educators and other leaders like, Lou Henry Hoover, Blanche Thrilling, and Agnes Wayman who opposed the AAU control and wanted women to govern the organization not men.
They were against it because “ only women could understand the psychological, motivational, and physiological need for women. ” (Costa & Guthrie, 91) Lou Henry Hoover was the leader of the National Amateur Athletic Federation, which was an organization that supported sport for everyone. She wanted to have a separate Women’s division because of the different ideal standards of women’s sport; and so was formed the women’s division of the NAAF. This organization set standards for women’s competition and encouraged them to participate in both school and non-school events.
There still was a belief that women were too frail physically and mentally to participate in intense competition like Olympics. However, in 1932, Mildred “ Babe” Didrikson disproved this belief by winning two Olympic gold medals and one silver medal in track and field. She had also won every golf tournament she competed in. Her great victories influenced the acceptance of higher- level competition, but there were still limitations due to the bias that sport build manliness, and therefore, women shouldn’t participate because it would strip their femininity.
Because of discrimination, women did not have as much financial support and training opportunities as men did. It was not until the 1960’s, during the feminist movement, that women fought for equal rights. This caused a great influence for women and sports. There was the approval of inclusion of intercollegiate sport and the establishment of national championship for golf, gymnastics, track and field, badminton, swimming, diving, volleyball and basketball. But what really caused a growth of women’s athletics, was the result of Title IX of the Educational Amendment Act of 1972.
This law was passed to eliminate sex discrimination in sports. This act provides equal opportunities for finances, coaching, and facilities. There was much growth of women’s athletics from ancient times to today. Even though you can still notice gender biases amongst women’s athletics since men’s sport are still more popular than the women’s, there are more opportunities and more organizations sponsoring women’s involvement and less discrimination than before.
References Costa, Margaret D, & Guthrie, Sharon D. ( 1994). Women and Sport: Interdisciplinary Perspectives. USA: D. Margaret Costa and Sharon R. Guthriex Hutchens, Lisa C. (1998). Gender Equity Collegiate Sports: The Role of Athletic Associations. Initiatives (Washington D. C),v. 58 no. 4. Retrieved from File:///Users/Jen/Downloads/HWWilsonRecords. html Metchikoff, Robert A. (2010) A History and Philosophy of Sport and Physical Education From Ancient Civilizations to the Modern World. Boston, MA: McGraw- Hill.

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