Feed on
Posts
Comments

The Era of “Playdays”: Pre-Title IX and Title IX

Pre-1972

 

Middlebury College was founded in 1800, and it began providing education to women eighty-three years later. In 1883, May Belle Chellis of Meriden, New Hampshire, and Annah May Bolton of Middlebury, Vermont, were granted admission to the sophomore and freshman class respectively, marking the starting point of the story of women at Middlebury[1].

 

1982 Fall The Middlebury Magazine Cover Page Women Sorority (cropped)
The Founders of the Alpha Chi Sorority and Their First Two Initiates in 1889:
These were some of the earliest full-time female students at Middlebury.
W.A.A. - The Women's M Club

The Women’s “M” Club, 1912.

 

A national movement of introducing physical education to girls began in the 1830s[2], well before women were admitted to Middlebury.  The College began sponsoring a Women Athletic Association (W.A.A.) in 1912[3]. Guided by the Women’s “M” Club, a seven-women council, W.A.A. was organized to “promote and supervise the athletic activities of the Women’s College and to stimulate interest in all forms of physical exercise.”[4] W.A.A. members had the right to elect managers of various sports, including field hockey, basketball, volleyball, badminton, softball, and tennis[5]. The establishment of the W.A.A. resulted in increased enthusiasm and participation in women’s sports[6].

 

Initial Members of the Seven-Women W.A.A. Council.
Early W.A.A. Council Members

 

However, well into the twentieth century, college administrators and many students considered women’s athletic activities unimportant and even discouraged them. Female students were expected to cheer for men’s teams, while on the other hand, male students were not allowed to attend women’s games[7]. According to David Stameshkin, “muscle-bound women” with “excessive manly attributes” contributed to the expectation that female students would “play nice”[8]. Furthermore, in 1919, the then Dean of Women received a complaint from a faculty member saying that “the Department of Physical Education permitted women in gym costume, without skirts, to cross the public road” on their way to the Porter Field that was in the southern side of the campus[9]. This was only the tip of the iceberg, however; in fact, across the country in the 1920s, “leading women educators led a concerted attack upon competitive programs to the point where most were abolished[10].” Therefore, the anti-competitive model of “playdays”, in which girls from various campuses in the same geographic area would “meet for…games and activities”[11], and restrictions on physical contact, such as the “Smith Rules” in basketball, were well-received.

 

1915 Women's Basketball
Women’s Basketball Team in 1915.

 

Meanwhile, by 1921, it became compulsory for male and female students to attend physical education classes[12]. Although it appeared that women had gained more freedom in “dressing appropriately for athletic activities”[13], when commuting to Porter, female students still had to “escape the gaze of the men”. In light of that, in the same year in 1921, the Board of Trustees eventually agreed to allocate $2500 for the construction of a new sports field next to Pearsons Hall that was relatively closer to the women’s campus[14].

 

Tennis Players 1912 vs 1949
Tennis Players in 1912 (left) and 1949 (right): there was significant increase in freedom in female athletic apparel.

 

Despite the growing attention paid to female sports from Old Chapel, resource allocation between men’s sports and women’s sports remained significantly unequal, with the former receiving nearly $21000 and the latter merely $300 in the year 1931-1932[15].

Meanwhile, the Women’s Ski Team had been one of Middlebury’s most successful squads and was in the forefront of competitive women’s athletics. From February 10th to 12th, 1934, the College hosted its first women’s intercollegiate ski meet at the Winter Carnival in which female skiers raced against Vermont, McGill, and Skidmore. That very same year, the first Playday was held at Middlebury[16]. Yet the games were not competitive at all and were played on friendly terms, with half of each team being Middlebury women and the other half being women from the visiting school[17].

 

Playday
“Playday” on Battell Beach in the Women’s College: female students were playing field hockey with women from nearby institutions.

 

A turning point came around 1939, when World War II was about to break out and the number of male students on campus drastically declined. As women assumed more leadership roles on campus, the structure and organization of W.A.A. was expanded and reformed. An executive board was created, composed of officers of W.A.A., the heads of sports that were in season, the first assistant of the physical education department, and a freshman representative[18]. Within the heart of board, the president and treasurer were elected from the senior class; the vice-president and custodian were juniors, and the secretary was chosen from the sophomore class[19]. Similar to team captains nowadays, the women’s sports heads back then were upperclassmen[20] who displayed extraordinary leadership and were outstanding in their respective sports. The executive board not only managed all the “intercollegiate” and intramural (interdormitory and interclass) games, but also provided all the referees, umpires, scorers, and timers[21].

 

1939 W.A.A.
The Expanded and Reformed W.A.A. in 1939.
1939 Women's Fencing
Women’s Fencing Team Practicing at the Gym, 1939.

 

The W.A.A’s competence and commitment, as well as the sharp escalation of female participation in athletics during World War II, paved the way for competitive women’s sports at the College. On a national scale, the first college championship for female athletes took place when Ohio State hosted a golf tournament in 1941. In 1946, Middlebury began playing against teams from different schools in basketball, volleyball, softball, and field hockey[22]. At that time, major rivals of the Lady Panthers included Vassar, Skidmore, St. Lawrence, and Vermont[23]. However, playing in tournaments continued to emphasize the joy of exercising, improving one’s health, fostering team spirit, and having good laughs[24].

 

First Field Hockey Team
Middlebury’s First Women’s Field Hockey Team.
1942 Women's Field Hockey (3)
Women’s Field Hockey Team in Action, 1942.
1942 Women's Field Hockey (1)
Women’s Field Hockey Team Posing for a Photo in Causal Clothes, 1942.

1942 Women's Fencing

Women’s Fencing Team Practicing in the Woods, 1942.

1941-1942 Womens heads of Sports

1941-1942 Women’s Heads of Sports.

1942 Women's Soccer

Women’s Soccer Team Practicing at Battell Beach in 1942.

 

On the other hand, in 1948, Becky Fraser ’46 became the first Middlebury athlete to compete in the Winter Olympics when she was selected to represent U.S.A. in skiing. The Women’s Ski Team gained so much national prominence that they were featured in a 1948 movie called Sno’ Time for Learning.

 

The March 1947 edition of the Middlebury Campus: writeup on Fraser’s selection to the Olympic Team.
1947 March The Middlebury Campus - Becky Fraser made the Olympics (cropped)

 

Nevertheless, in the conservative post-World War II era, critics of women’s sports claimed that there was a close linkage between “female athleticism”, “mannishness”, and even “lesbianism”[25]. In response, leaders of female athletics in the country geared the development of women’s sports in a different direction: while they insisted on women’s equal right to sport, they also advocated that non-competitiveness and minimal physical intimacy were the true features of “womanhood”[26].

Regardless, Middlebury women skiers continued their success. In 1960, Renie Cox Gorsuch `60 skied in the Winter Olympics.

 

1951 Women's Ski Team
The 1951 Women’s Ski Team.
1957 W.A.A. Jacket
The W.A.A. Jacket, 1957: it was only awarded to female athletes with outstanding achievements,
for example reaching the 1000-point mark in basketball.

 

The public mind-set about female in sports had begun to transform again in the mid-1960s as a result of the Cold War[27]. The population cheered on American athletes who could beat the Soviets, including great sportswomen Wilma Rudolph, Margaret Court, and Billie Jean King[28], just to name a few. Riding along the tides of second-wave feminism and the “fast growing interest among college women in competitive sports”[29], women educators formed committees, such as the Division of Girls’ and Women’s Sports (DGWS) and the Tripartite Comittee, to look into the idea of establishing an organization to govern and sponsor women’s collegiate championships[30], which gave rise to the formation of the Commission of Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (CIAW) in 1967.

 

1975 Women's Field Hockey
The 1975 Women’s Field Hockey Team.

 

This “phenomenal rise of women’s intercollegiate athletics” led to the births of numerous women’s varsity teams at Middlebury in the late 1960s and the dawn of the 70s: field hockey (1968), swimming (1969), lacrosse (1969), and tennis (1971). Simultaneously, in the academic year 1969-1970, Erica Wonnacott was appointed to be the Dean of Students by President Amrstrong. The abolishment of the former positions of the Dean of Men and Dean of Women marked the merging of the men’s and women’s colleges[31]. Soon after, the admission offices combined as well and coeducational dormitories were built.

 

1976 Women's Tennis
The 1976 Women’s Tennis Team.

 

Unfortunately, the administration of women collegiate sports and national college championships appeared to have developed into a political power struggle. In January 1972, several officials decided that they needed a more formal structure and created the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW), a spinoff of the CIAW.

More importantly, that year, Title IX was introduced in Congress under the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution[32].

 

NEXT

 

 

 

[1] Petersen, “July 1982 Burlington Free Press College Edition”, p.1

[2] Davies, “Sports in American Life: A History – Sports on Campus, 1920-50”, p. 152

[3] Petersen, “July 1982 Burlington Free Press College Edition”, p.4

[4] Middlebury College, 1939 Kaleidoscope, p.125

[5] Middlebury College, “The Kaleidoscope Sesquicentennial”, p.155

[6] Middlebury College, “The Kaleidoscope Sesquicentennial”, p.155

[7] Stameshkin, “The Strengths of the Hills – Athletics”, p.280

[8] Davies, “Sports in American Life – Sports on Campus, 1920-50”, p. 153

[9] Stameshkin, “The Strengths of the Hills – Athletics”, p.280

[10] Davies, “Sports in American Life: A History – Sports on Campus, 1920-50”, p. 151

[11] Davies, “Sports in American Life: A History – Sports on Campus, 1920-50”, p. 154

[12] Stameshkin, “The Strengths of the Hills – Athletics”, p.280

[13] Stameshkin, “The Strengths of the Hills – Athletics”, p.281

[14] Stameshkin, “The Strengths of the Hills – Athletics”, p.280

[15] Stameshkin, “The Strengths of the Hills – Athletics”, p.281

[16] Middlebury College, “The Kaleidoscope Sesquicentennial”, p.155

[17] Middlebury College, “The Kaleidoscope Sesquicentennial”, p.155

[18] Middlebury College, 1939 Kaleidoscope, p.125

[19] Middlebury College, 1939 Kaleidoscope, p.125

[20] Middlebury College, 1939 Kaleidoscope, p.125

[21] Middlebury College, 1939 Kaleidoscope, p.125, 126

[22] Middlebury College, “The Kaleidoscope Sesquicentennial”, p.155

[23] Middlebury College, “The Kaleidoscope Sesquicentennial”, p.155

[24] Middlebury College, “The Kaleidoscope Sesquicentennial”, p.156

[25] Nancy Hogshead-Makar and Andrew Zimbalist, “Equal Play: Title IX and Social Change”, p.10, 11

[26] Nancy Hogshead-Makar and Andrew Zimbalist, “Equal Play: Title IX and Social Change”, p.13

[27] Nancy Hogshead-Makar and Andrew Zimbalist, “Equal Play: Title IX and Social Change”, p.14

[28] Nancy Hogshead-Makar and Andrew Zimbalist, “Equal Play: Title IX and Social Change”, p.14, 15

[29] Nancy Hogshead-Makar and Andrew Zimbalist, “Equal Play: Title IX and Social Change”, p.14

[30] Nancy Hogshead-Makar and Andrew Zimbalist, “Equal Play: Title IX and Social Change”, p.16

[31] Petersen, “July 1982 Burlington Free Press College Edition”, p.88

[32] Nancy Hogshead-Makar and Andrew Zimbalist, “Equal Play: Title IX and Social Change”, p.19

 

 

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.