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A look back into history of some milestones in Women’s Sport

It makes little sense to argue that women have more power in sport today without acknowledging the power and influence of women in sport in the past. Here we look at some milestones in Women Sport.

Nikhil Kanaujia
Last updated: 11.02.2021
The picture above, showing Leith Ladies, is evidence of organised women football being played in Scotland as early as 1938. | Sports Social Blog

It makes little sense to argue that women have more power in sport today without acknowledging the power and influence of women in sport in the past.

Accounts of women and sport in the nineteenth century emphasise participation in terms of patrons, spectators and players. In Scotland wealthy women presented sporting prizes, such as the miniature silver curling stone that Mrs Houison-Crawford of Craufurdland gave for competition between the curlers of Fenwick and Kilmarnock. The number of women who had access to sport at the start of the nineteenth century was small, but not as small as the number of women who boxed, as two did on Glasgow Green in 1828. The first Ladies Golf Club was established at St Andrews in 1867, shortly followed by Ladies Golf Clubs at Musselburgh (1872), at Carnoustie (1873), Panmure (1874) and Perth (1879).

Almost two-thirds of the 42 founder members of the Avon Lawn Tennis Club at Linlithgow in 1880 were female; in some cases the number of females equalled and exceeded the number of males in the Tennis Club Championships, as happened in the Braid Club in Edinburgh in 1895. The point that is being illustrated here is that sports historiography can help to qualify, complement and add to present-centred approaches to the study of sport, culture and society.

A timeline about some milestones in the history of women's sport:

1500 BC Female bull jumpers in Crete defy death.

1000 BC Atalanta out-wrestles Peleus; the women-only Herean Games take place in Greece.

440 BC Kallipateira sneaks into the Olympic Games and men devise the first sex test to keep women out.

396 BC Princess Kyniska of Sparta is the first female Olympic champion, winning the chariot race.

1424 Madame Margot outplays Parisian men at jeu de paume, an early version of tennis.

1900 Women are included on the programme of the modern Olympic Games competing in golf and tennis; tennis player Charlotte Cooper of Great Britain becomes the first woman Olympic champion.

1922 Suzanne Lenglen makes her Wimbledon debut.

1924 The Fédération Sportive Féminine Internationale organises the first Women’s Olympic Games in Paris; in one day alone, 20,000 spectators watch 18 world records broken in track and field.

1926 Alexandrine Gibb spearheads the formation of the Women’s Amateur Athletic Federation of Canada (WAAF) to initiate international competition for

Canadian women; the second Women’s Games are held in Gothenburg, Sweden, with entries from 10 nations.

1928 Staging the only feminist boycott in Olympic history, the British women stay away from the Games to protest against the lack of women’s Olympic events.

1930 The third Women’s Games are held in Prague.

1934 The fourth and last Women’s Games were held in London.

1936 The Women’s Games are cancelled in exchange for a nine-event Olympic programme for women.

1948 Fanny Blankers-Koen of the Netherlands is the first mother to be an Olympic gold medallist.

1968 Enrigueta Basilio became the first woman in Olympic history to set alight the modern Olympic flame.

2002 Vonetta Flowers becomes the first black American athlete to compete at the Winter Olympic Games.

No women took part in the first modern Games in 1896. Today the balance remains weighted in favour of men, but it is tilting. At the XXVIth Games in Atlanta, for example, 97 of the 271 events were open to women, with 11 contested by both genders; 3,626 of the 10,629 athletes were women.

References: Sports, Culture and Society by Grant Jarvie

We will try to deep dive into the more detailed history of women in sport with specific reference to one country. Stay tuned to Chase Your Sport!

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