Gender and Femininity in Early 20th Century Sports

About the project

“Cycling Skirts, Woolen Shirts” delves into the issues behind gender and sport at the end of the 19th century and early part of the 20th century when women first began participating in athletics through examination of rule changes, individual athletes, and uniform standards over time. These original athletes struggled to fit into the larger cultural context of the time and still do what they loved, and by participating in sports found themselves challenging the very idea of what it meant to be a woman.

Women have been playing most modern sports since their conception, especially at the college level, yet even today, there are obvious disparities in funding, support, and popularity of women’s sports compared to their male counterparts. Gender still plays a large role in how we talk about sports and athletes today, and uniforms reflect our ideas about the agency of athletes and how they are viewed in a larger cultural context. This project seeks to contextualize that discussion, exposing its roots in the earliest years of modern team sports.

This project began as an archival capstone, and would not have been possible without the help of professors, technical services, and archivists at the Smith College Special Collections.