Project Editor:Beth Klopping, English 418/818, Fall 2005


In action


"The standards of modesty conflicted with practicality." (Leslie, 1985)

One can hardly look at the photographs of women athletes at the beginning of the twentieth century without wondering how they could possibly function inside their clothes. Balancing modesty, fashion, and the budgets of the women's athletic department did not usually result in a sports uniform that was functional. In fact, as in the case of bicycling, sometimes the clothing was downright dangerous—fabric was caught in the wheel, causing the cyclist to crash. In other cases, such as swimming or running, the extra material the women wore created unnecessary weight and drag, preventing them from performing to the best of their abilities.

These photographs demonstrate this dilemma, while still proving the women to be capable of working around the handicaps their clothing creates.

1914; black and white photograph of a woman pole vaulting, two women wait on either side


black and white photograph of five women at the finish-line of a race; man and woman stand at the line, near bleachers of onlookers


black and white photograph of one woman pole vaulting in front of brick building with triangular roof


black and white photograph of several women at the start of a race, wearing both light and dark uniforms


black and white photograph of three women in mid-air during a hurdling race; fourth competator follows


black and white photograph of women in all-dark uniforms playing outdoors; large building in background, basketball hoop in foreground


The following passage accurately describes the frustration with which these athletes performed in their clothes:

"Indeed, the champion woman golfer Mabel Stringer later remarked: 'How on earth any one of us ever managed to hit a ball, or get along at all in the outrageous garments which fashion decreed we wear to cover ourselves, is one of the great unsolved mysteries of that or any age.' By the mid-1890s, flowing skirts were back again, notably in hockey and women's cricket, which enjoyed a short-lived boom in the mid-90s and prompted lady Violet Greville to comment later that it was not uncommon to see a woman on the cricket field 'holding a hat on with one hand striving to catch a ball with the other, and succeeding in doing neither." (Sibley 44)