The Movement Comes of Age
Women's Tennis Club at the University of Texas, 1906

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University of Texas tennis team, 1906

The history of women's athletics is not well documented. In early America, women participated in many of the same simple sports and pastimes as men -- dancing, running races, playing games, and riding horses. But in the 19th century, public opinion had turned against female participation in rigorous sports. Women's role was to keep house and tend to children and to stay out of the public arena. Popular sports such as baseball, rowing, and swimming were reserved for men.

As the 20th century began, college women wanted opportunities to participate in what was then called "physical culture." Tennis and golf were the first sports to be played by large numbers of women. Women's sports were intramural clubs, rather than teams that competed with other colleges and universities. By the 1920s, women were also participating in sports such as basketball, swimming, field hockey, lacrosse, bowling, and track and field. It was not until the 1960s that modern physical education programs for women emerged and not until the 1970s that women's competitive athletics took off.

Women's Tennis Club at the University of Texas, 1906. Prints and Photographs Collection, Texas State Library and Archives Commission. #1/101-49.

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Page last modified: August 24, 2011