May not be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher, except fair uses permitted under U.S. or applicable copyright law. =o= In the fall of 1911 Lippincott’s Monthly described the modern athletic woman: “She loves to walk, to row, to ride, to motor, to jump and run … as Man walks, jumps, rows, rides, motors, and runs.” 1 To many early-twentieth-century observers, the female athlete represented the bold and energetic modern woman, breaking free from Victorian constraints, and tossing aside oldfashioned ideas about separate spheres for men and women. Popular magazines celebrated this transformation, issuing favorable notice that the “hardy sun-tanned girl” who spent the summer in outdoor games was fast replacing her predecessors, the prototypical “Lydia Languish” and the “soggy matron” of old. 2 With the dawning of the new century, interest in sport had burgeoned.

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CHAPTER 1 THE NEW TYPE OF ATHLETIC GIRL Copyright 2015. University of Illinois Press. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced in any form without permission from the publisher, except fair uses permitted under U.S. or applicable copyright law. =o= In the fall of 1911 Lippincott’s Monthly described the modern athletic woman: “She loves to walk, to row, to ride, to motor, to jump and run … as Man walks, jumps, rows, rides, motors, and runs.” 1 To many early-twentieth-century observers, the female athlete represented the bold and energetic modern woman, breaking free from Victorian constraints, and tossing aside oldfashioned ideas about separate spheres for men and women. Popular magazines celebrated this transformation, issuing favorable notice that the “hardy sun-tanned girl” who spent the summer in outdoor games was fast replacing her predecessors, the prototypical “Lydia Languish” and the “soggy matron” of old. 2 With the dawning of the new century, interest in sport had burgeoned. More and more Americans were participating as spectators or competitors in football, baseball, track and field, and a variety of other events. At the same time women were streaming into education, the paid labor force, and political reform movements in unprecedented numbers. Women’s social and political activism sparked a reconsideration of their nature and place in society, voiced through vigorous debates on a wide range of issues, from the vote to skirt lengths. Popular interest in sport and concern over women’s changing status converged in the growing attention paid to the “athletic girl,” a striking symbol of modern womanhood. The female athlete’s entrance into a male-defined sphere made 7 EBSCO Publishing : eBook Collection (EBSCOhost) – printed on 5/20/2021 10:44 AM via CAL STATE UNIV EAST BAY AN: 1428857 ; Susan K Cahn.; Coming On Strong : Gender and Sexuality in Women’s Sport Account: s7451176.main.ehost 8 COMING ON STRONG her not only a popular figure but an ambiguous, potentially disruptive character as well. Sport had developed as a male preserve, a domain in which men expressed and cultivated masculinity through athletic competition. Yet, along with other “New Women” who demanded access to such traditional male realms as business and politics, women athletes of the early twentieth century claimed the right to share in sport. They stood on the borderline between new feminine ideals and customary notions of manly sport, symbolizing both the possibilities and the dangers of the New Woman’s daring disregard for traditional gender arrangements. 3 The female athlete’s ambiguity created a dilemma for her advocates. Given women’s evident enjoyment of such “masculine” pursuits, could the “athletic girl” (and thus, the modern woman) reap the benefits of sport (and modernity) without becoming less womanly? The Lippincott’s Monthly article was titled “The Masculinization of Girls.” And while it concluded positively that “with muscles tense and blood aflame, she plays the manly role,” women’s assumption of “the manly role” generated deep hostility and anxiety among those who feared that women’s athletic activity would damage female reproductive capacity, promote sexual licentiousness, and blur “natural” gender differences. 4 The perceived “mannishness” of the female athlete complicated her reception, making the “athletic girl” a cause for concern as well as celebration. Controversy did not dampen women’s enthusiasm, but it did lead some advocates of women’s sport to take a cautious approach, one designed specifically to avert charges of masculinization. Women physical educators took an especially prudent stance, articulating a unique philosophy of women’s athletics that differed substantially from popular ideals of “manly sport.” The tension between sport and femininity led, paradoxically, to educators’ insistence on women’s equal right to sport and on inherent differences between female and male athletes. Balancing claims of equality and difference, physical educators articulated a woman-centered philosophy of sport that proposed “moderation” as the watchword of women’s physical activity. Moderation provided the critical point of difference between women’s and EBSCOhost – printed on 5/20/2021 10:44 AM via CAL STATE UNIV EAST BAY. All use subject to https://www.ebsco.com/terms-of-use The New Type of Athletic Girl 9 men’s sport, a preventive against the masculine effects of sport. It was this philosophy, with its calculated effort to resolve the issue of “mannishness,” which guided the early years of twentieth-century women’s athletics. =o= Interest in women’s athletics reflected the growing popularity of sport in industrial America. In a society in which the division between leisure and labor was increasingly distinct, many Americans filled their free time with modern exercise regimens and organized sport. It was in the middle and latter decades of the nineteenth century that two pivotal traditions developedthat of “manly sport” and that of female exercise. Each would influence the turn-of-the-century boom in women’s sport and shape the views of female physical educators. Traditions of “manly sport” developed over the course of the nineteenth century as large-scale transformations in the American economy, class relations, and leisure habits helped spawn new forms of athletic culture. In an antebellum society destabilized by rapid commercialization and the first stages of industrial revolution, the emerging middle class took an inordinate interest in cultivating self-discipline and a strictly regulated body. Not only did they perceive the growing numbers of poor, immigrant, urban workers as an unruly mass in need of disciplined activity, they also worried about their own capacity to subdue momentary passions for the controlled, regulated habits of body deemed necessary for climbing the ladder of success. Exercise-as well as diet, health, and sexual reforms-offered a means to these ends. Guided by a Victorian philosophy of “rational recreation” and a religious ideal of “muscular Christianity,” male sport and exercise began to flourish in the years before the Civil War. Physical culture specialists prescribed rigorous routines designed to improve both body and mind. A strict regimen of physical exercise was expected to contain sexual energy, breed self-control, and strengthen a man’s moral and religious fiber through muscular development. The physically fit Victorian man could then channel his mental and physical energies into a life of productive labor and moral rectitude. EBSCOhost – printed on 5/20/2021 10:44 AM via CAL STATE UNIV EAST BAY. All use subject to https://www.ebsco.com/terms-of-use 10 COMING ON STRONG By contrast, a much-less-respectable sporting life developed outside the middle class. Bachelor clerks, artisans, and shopkeepers joined other adventurous men in an informal sporting fraternity. They created a rich social and athletic life by organizing baseball clubs and frequenting prizefights, boat races, footraces, and gambling dens. Their ranks included men from the “lower orders” as well as men of higher social standing, who-chafing at the restrictions of polite society-enjoyed a rough-and-tumble life-style in which gambling, drinking, and hard living mixed with athletics. 5 Together these activities made up the “sporting life.” In rejecting the dominant ethos of self-discipline and delayed gratification, it presented a rebellious underside to proper Victorian culture. In both its rough and respectable forms, male sport cultivated an ideal of virile, athletic manhood. This ideal took deeper root after the Civil War, when industrialization, urban concentration, immigrant-community formation, and the expansion of education made sport accessible to a greater number and variety of men. Organized athletics of the late nineteenth century spanned class and ethnic differences. German Turnverein gymnastic societies, Scottish Caledonian track clubs, and Irish, German, and Italian baseball clubs allowed immigrants to join the American sporting scene while cultivating ethnic solidarity. Upper-class Americans cultivated their own sporting tradition in elite, exclusive metropolitan athletic clubs like the New York Athletic Club. For recreation outside the city, they turned to country clubs that offered cricket, tennis, golf, and yachting. 6 The expansion of higher education spurred the growth of sport on college campuses as well. By the century’s end, informal student sport had developed into highly organized collegiate athletic programs under the control of paid administrators and professional coaches. Crew, track, and football played an important role in schools’ institutional growth, generating revenue and publicity while attracting students and a loyal alumni. Competitive intercollegiate sport was complemented by physical education programs in which exercise specialists introduced young males to military drill and European systems of gymnastic exercise/ By the turn of the century, the advent of commercial sport EBSCOhost – printed on 5/20/2021 10:44 AM via CAL STATE UNIV EAST BAY. All use subject to https://www.ebsco.com/terms-of-use The New Type of Athletic Girl 11 media, especially the new sporting sections of daily newspapers, further popularized both professional and amateur athletics. The press attracted nationwide fan interest and granted a new respectability to professional prizefighting and baseball. At the amateur level the media promoted athletic contests sponsored by the newly founded Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). 8 Press coverage also helped generate interest at the grass-roots level. Between 1900 and 1915 neighborhood and working-class associations began to form athletic clubs, industrial teams, and church-sponsored leagues, providing the first organized athletic opportunities for urban laboring men. 9 Significantly, this apparent democratization of sport occurred at a time when the lives of impoverished workers and immigrants seemed further and further removed from the comfortable ones of white-collar workers and businessmen. The tensions spawned by class injustices and other social inequities nurtured turn-ofthe-century protest movements in which industrial workers, farmers, women’s rights advocates, and radicals seriously challenged the social order. Under these circumstances the dramatic increase in the popularity of men’s sport coincided with a concerted effort among men of the upper ranks to protect their social position and authority. Athletic life offered one method of reinforcement. The image of virile athletic manhood proved reassuring, especially for professionals, merchants, and white-collar workers whose work in the new corporate economy no longer required physical labor. 10 Fortified by rigorous exercise, well-to-do men could cultivate their physical superiority, restore their confidence, and regain the “hard” edge required for effective leadership. Earlier, more personal Victorian concerns about individual masculine character now shaded into a public interest in restoring the collective manliness of a beleaguered Anglo-Saxon elite. Political thinkers extended this logic to their concerns over the creation of a mighty and powerful nation. Worried that the middle- and upper-class American male was losing his virility and that the nation as a whole would soon endure the weak leadership of soft, effeminate men, turn-of-the-century politicians like Theodore Roosevelt looked to “the strenuous life” for a remedy. EBSCOhost – printed on 5/20/2021 10:44 AM via CAL STATE UNIV EAST BAY. All use subject to https://www.ebsco.com/terms-of-use 12 COMING ON STRONG Those who no longer toiled at physical labor could forge their masculinity on the ball fields and gridirons. Through arduous sport they would acquire the health benefits of vigorous exercise and, more important, valuable training for war and the moral and physical traits of commanding leadership. Faced by what they viewed as the artificiality and effeteness of urban industrial existence, “strenuous life” devotees drew on a nostalgic image of a simpler, pastoral life of physical rigor and unchallenged male dominance that they hoped to re-create in the realm of sport. While proponents of manly sport hoped that sport could renew middle-class manhood, Progressive Era reformers of the early 1900s argued that sport and recreation could serve as a training ground for working-class and immigrant youth as well. Reformers perceived an excess of energy in working-class boys who, left to their own devices, might turn their fervor toward sexual and criminal delinquency. Through school athletics, settlement houses, Young Men’s Christian Associations (YMCAs), church leagues, and playgrounds, welfare workers reached out to underprivileged youth through sport. They speculated that if athletic training could reinvigorate pampered boys, it could also provide safe outlets for the passions of working-class youth. 11 Thus, as organized sport gained in popularity, it intensified the association between athleticism and masculinity. American men confronting the changes wrought by industrialization, urbanization, and mass immigration looked to sport as a crucial avenue for defining and expressing their manhood. It is not surprising, then, that women who tried to carve out a place in the athletic world met with some resistance. =o= Turn-of-the-century women, when confronted with deeply entrenched notions of manly sport, turned to their own traditions of female exercise and athletic participation. Disturbed by evidence of female frailty, proponents of women’s health had begun advocating moderate exercise for women as early as the 1830s. Antebellum advice columnists, educators, feminists, and health reformers called for improved female health through “physical culture.” Subsequently members of two late nineteenth-century EBSCOhost – printed on 5/20/2021 10:44 AM via CAL STATE UNIV EAST BAY. All use subject to https://www.ebsco.com/terms-of-use The New Type of Athletic Girl 13 professions, medicine and physical education, further developed these arguments and became strong advocates of female exercise. Nineteenth-century medical science characterized women as the physiologically inferior sex, weakened and ruled by their reproductive systems. Given evidence of women’s poor healthchronic fatigue, pain and illness, mood swings, and menstrual irregularities-experts theorized that the cyclical fluctuations of female physiology caused physical, emotional, and moral vulnerability and debilitation. Formally educated doctors eager to secure their professional status took a special interest in women’s health problems. In the name of medical science, they claimed to be authorities on the female body, capable of diagnosing and treating woman’s condition. One such treatment was moderate exercise, designed to strengthen and regulate the female body. 12 Medical rationales for female exercise interested women educators, who found them useful in their efforts to justify women’s pursuit of higher education. As the number of women in college jumped from 11,000 in 1870 to 85,000 in 1900, educators had to counter widespread assertions that mental strain would cause nervous disorder and reproductive dysfunction in female students. 13 Based on “vitalist” scientific theories, which posited that bodies had a finite amount of circulating energy that was drawn to different parts of the body by activity, conservatives warned that education presented a serious danger by pulling necessary energy from the female reproductive system to the brain. 14 Educators found an antidote in the claim that physical education would prevent these potential traumas. An exercise regimen would theoretically return energy to the body and strike a proper balance between physical and mental activity. The concern over college women’s health cracked open the doors of academe to women physical educators. In the 1880s physical culture specialists founded the Sargent School and Boston Normal School of Gymnastics to train women as instructors of physical education. A decade later graduates began to fan out around the country in newly established college P.E. departments. Soon these departments created degree-granting majors, so that in addition to instructing every female student in a course of mandatory physical exercise, physical educators trained the EBSCOhost – printed on 5/20/2021 10:44 AM via CAL STATE UNIV EAST BAY. All use subject to https://www.ebsco.com/terms-of-use 14 COMING ON STRONG next generation of professionals. 15 Thus, buttressed by institutional support, scientific theories, and a newly formed organization of male and female professionals-the American Association for the Advancement of Physical Education (later changed to the American Physical Education Association, or APEA)-women physical educators approached the new century with optimism. 16 Interest in physical education found its complement in the growing popularity of women’s competitive sport inside and outside of academic institutions. While physical culture experts had been promoting controlled, regimented exercise, others had begun to encourage women to take up more active, competitive athletic games. As with men’s sport, these activities split along the divide between rough and respectable. Nineteenth-century newspapers occasionally reported on highly unconventional women ballplayers and runners who competed for prize money before a paying public. In the 1880s New Orleans promoter Harry H. Freeman put together a touring women’s baseball team, which folded under rumors of illicit sexual activities. 17 Other women entered the boxing or wrestling ring in events that combined spectacle, sport, and gambling. In 1876, for example, Hill’s Theater in New York City featured a contest between two pugilists, Nell Saunders and Rose Harland, with the victor to receive a silver butter dish. 18 These athletes violated every Victorian standard of proper feminine behavior. Brazenly to occupy male athletic space, to engage in physical competition, and to parade the female body before the public prompted not only allegations of “unladylike” behavior but charges of prostitution-the ultimate public female degradation. 19 Women’s sport gained credibility more readily among the wealthier classes, where it took root in an established tradition of upper-class leisure. Outdoor amusements like croquet, horseback riding, archery, swimming, golf, and tennis allowed well-to-do women of the post-Civil War era to display the latest styles in outdoor apparel along with the abundant free time of the rich. When women with money and time to spare gathered to play fashionable games, they entered a culture of conspicuous leisure that also included dining, bathing, and drinking at the nation’s most exclusive resorts and clubs. For these women sport was EBSCOhost – printed on 5/20/2021 10:44 AM via CAL STATE UNIV EAST BAY. All use subject to https://www.ebsco.com/terms-of-use The New Type of Athletic Girl 15 both a liberating, adventurous pastime and an enjoyable way to display their wealth and to strengthen elite social ties. 20 When clubs began opening tournament play to women in the 1870s, several sports moved beyond the recreational level to more serious levels of competition. Sporting organizations like the National Archery Association, the United States National Lawn Tennis Association, and the United States Golf Association sponsored the first women’s national championships in archery, tennis and golf in 1879, 1887, and 1895 respectively. 21 While tournament competition allowed a few athletes to train vigorously and pursue athletic excellence, most women continued to enjoy leisurely paced games played for fun and fresh air. These activities formed a socially acceptable pastime consistent with the refinement expected of “proper ladies.” When Alfred K …
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