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



black and white photograph taken in 1901 or 1902; seven women in dark uniforms, basketball in lap

black and white photo; girls inter-class basketball pennant 1905 class team photo; 1901-2 won by class of 1905 class champions black and white photo of ten girls; five in white Minnesota uniforms, and five in dark Nebraska uniforms

black and white photo of the girls basketball team, Cornhusker 1915; photo shows ten girls in white uniforms from the waist up

Women began playing modern sports around 1850. Since then, they have had to negotiate more than their place in the athletic world—they have had to negotiate what they would wear there. When reviewing photographs of women athletes in the early twentieth century, perhaps the most striking aspect is the type of clothing these women wore. Presented here is a brief discussion about these clothes, the photographs, and how women fit into this previously male territory.

The obstacles facing women athletes were seemingly endless. Sports had evolved by men, and for men. Women who participated in sports were therefore automatically breaking gender roles. They faced disapproving rumors, and were told that physical activity was actually harmful to the female body. At times, they were considered to be indecent. (For example, female cyclists were able to pedal away from the supervising view of a chaperone.)

The materials and styles of the clothing they wore provided, perhaps, the biggest obstacle of all. Tight budgets, Victorian standards of dress and unwieldy materials combined to suit women in outfits that seem almost humorous, now. In reality, the uniforms had to simultaneously uphold the standards of modesty and somehow allow for enough movement to play the game. In most cases, as this project seems to indicate, the quests for modesty and femininity usually outweighed the quest for functionality. However, this situation created a playing field on which to break apart the strict roles women generally followed, and provided an outlet for reform.

The formative time in the development of women's sportswear was the span of years between 1880 and 1910. It is not within the scope of this project to examine all the aspects of women's sportswear during this time. Rather, by glancing at photographs and excerpts from the university's yearbooks during this period, we can watch this battle play out on our own campus.

The IN THE YEARBOOKS section focuses on the treatment female athletes were given in yearbooks. Selections of images and text have been included from the years 1902 to 1913.

IN ACTION gives a brief look at these women on the field, track, and court.

And finally, IN SOCIETY touches on the ways society reacted as these women began to gain visibility in the public eye.


Bloomer, D. C. Life and Writings of Amelia Bloomer. New York: Schocken Books, 1975.

Gattey, C. Neilson and Bramley-Moore, Z. "The Birth of the Bloomer: A Comedy in One Act." Massachusetts: Walter Baker Co., 1955.

Gerber, Ellen W. The American Woman in Sport. Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley Publishing Co., 1974.

Gordon, Sarah A. "Any Desired Length." Beauty and Business. Ed. By Philip Scranton. New York: Routledge, 2001. 43-51.

Grossbard, Judy. Style Changes in American Women's Sportswear from 1881-1910. Michigan: U.M.I. Dissertation Services, 1990.

Leslie, J. "Sports fashion as a reflection of the changing role of American women in society from 1850-1920." (Doctoral dissertation, University of North Carolina, Greensboro 1985). Dissertation Abstracts International, 85, 20602.

Sibley, Richard. "Femininity or Feminism? Women's Sport and Dress in Victorian Britain." Revue Francaise de Civilisation Britannique. 12.4 (2004): 37-47.


Gattey, Charles Neilson. The Bloomer Girls. New York: Coward-McCann, Inc., 1967.

Grundy, Pamela. "Bloomers and Beyond: North Carolina women's Basketball Uniforms, 1901-1997." Southern Cultures. 3.3 (1997): 52-67.

Lee-Potter, Charlie. Sportswear in Vogue Since 1910. Great Britain: The Condé Nast Publications Ltd., 1984.

Warner, Patricia Campbell. Clothing the American Woman for Sport and Physical Education, 1860 to 1940: Public and Private. Michigan: U.M.I. Dissertation Services, 1986.