Sports and Competition

Women's Tennis, Palmer Field, 1910

Tennis, 1910

Golf, Woman Teeing Off

Golf, ca. 1920s

Field Hockey, 1937

Field Hockey, 1937

University of Michigan Modern Dance Club

U-M Modern Dance Club, 1938

Sports

The Women’s Athletic Association began with only a few sports: basketball, tennis, and baseball (which later became softball following rule changes which were designed to make more appropriate for women).[1] Over time, the number of sports and participants grew along with the organization.

By 1946, the WAA offered a variety of sports, including: Archery, Badminton, Basketball, Bowling, Camp Counsellors’ Club, Dance, Fencing, Figure Skating, Golf, Hockey, Outing Club (including hiking and other outdoor activities), Riding (crop and saddle), Rifle, Swimming, Softball, Table Tennis, and Tennis. [2]

In 1949, the WAA officially began a “co-recreational” program, which included men and women in activities such as the Folk and Square Dance Club, the Badminton Club, the Ice Skating Club, the Modern Dance Club, and the Ballet Club.[3]

Competition

The WAA mainly focused on participation and the health benefits of athletics rather than arduous competition. However, athletes in the WAA competed on a smaller scale in interclass competitions during the early twentieth  century. By the 1930s, these contests gave way to intramural competition on a house-by-house basis within the University of Michigan—each dormitory, League House (campus housing for women), and sorority chose members to serve on  their house’s team.

Throughout the first half of the twentieth century, the WAA hosted several intramural tournaments, including those in basketball, volleyball, tennis, and softball.[4] The 1946 Volleyball Tournament had 53 teams participate,[5] demonstrating the reach of the WAA and the popularity of club sports among women at U-M. 

By the mid-1950s, the WAA at Michigan began to entertain the idea of “varsity-type” sports in which an athletic team would represent the school in a competition with a similar team at another school.[6] Michigan’s WAA hosted field hockey games with local schools such as Michigan State University, Albion, Bowling Green and Eastern Michigan University.[7] The university also combined a social event with each game to better acquaint students from different schools while also promoting the social benefits of sports and competition. During the 1958-59 school year, the Women’s Athletic Board sponsored a team in the “Michigan State Play Day,” a gathering for recreation and competition between women’s collegiate club teams in East Lansing.[8] While many of those participating in and overseeing women’s athletics at the time still believed that women’s college athletics should not be “overly strenuous” nor geared to a “professional level,”[9] this growing interest in intercollegiate competition would soon pave the way for the rise of women’s varsity athletics at the University of Michigan during the 1970s.



[1] Gladys Appelt, “The History of the Women’s Athletic Association,” 1928, Women’s Athletic Association 1926-1928, Box 1, Women’s Athletic Association (University of Michigan) Records 1905-1962, University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library, Ann Arbor, MI.

[2] List of Sport Clubs, Women’s Athletic Association 1946-48, Box 3, Women’s Athletic Association (University of Michigan) Records 1905-1962, University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library, Ann Arbor, MI.

[3] “Corecreation Final Report,” Women’s Athletic Association 1948-50, Box 3, Women’s Athletic Association (University of Michigan) Records 1905-1962, University of Michigan, Bentley Historical Library, Ann Arbor, MI.

[4] Women’s Athletic Association 1946-48, Box 3, Women’s Athletic Association (University of Michigan) Records 1905-1962, University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library, Ann Arbor, MI.

[5] Intramural Manager’s Report 1946-47, Women’s Athletic Association 1946-48, Box 3, Women’s Athletic Association (University of Michigan) Records 1905-1962, University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library, Ann Arbor, MI.

[6] “Summary of 1954 AFMCW State Convention,” Women’s Athletic Association 1954-56, Box 3, Women’s Athletic Association (University of Michigan) Records 1905-1962, University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library, Ann Arbor, MI.

[7] “Field Hockey Club Report,” Women’s Athletic Association 1958-60, Box 3, Women’s Athletic Association (University of Michigan) Records 1905-1962, University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library, Ann Arbor, MI.

[8] “Final Report 1958-59,” Women’s Athletic Association 1958-60, Box 3, Women’s Athletic Association (University of Michigan) Records 1905-1962, University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library, Ann Arbor, MI.

[9] “Summary of 1954 AFMCW State Convention,” Women’s Athletic Association 1954-56, Box 3, Women’s Athletic Association (University of Michigan) Records 1905-1962, University of Michigan Bentley Historical Library, Ann Arbor, MI.