Women’s History Month: Women’s Athletics at Elon in the 1920s-1930s

Julia Mueller
March 1, 2013

Women's Archery in 1939

Women’s Archery in 1939

During the beginning decades of Elon as an institution, society held a very different impression about women than the contemporary opinion.  Lady-like behavior was strongly encouraged, and women were often protected against potential masculinity that was incorporated in notions about sports and physical training.  At the turn of the twentieth century, women were confined to calisthenics and recreational tennis.  Over the next twenty years, the Young Women’s Christian Association at Elon College was formed and requests for more athletic opportunities were expressed.  As views of women changed in America from delicate to more durable, the trend in sports was reflected accordingly. In 1922, Elon featured a women’s tennis squad and two basketball teams.  Of course, the women only competed against other Elon women and many restrictions regarding male and female social interactions remained.

In 1933, Elon College required women to take three hours of physical training per week: one hour for games, one hour for rhythmic dancing, and one hour for exercise.  As the 1930s progressed, women’s course requirements changed to have two years of physical training.  Outdoor events also became available for women, and hiking quickly became a favorite.  In the late 1930s, Play Days were events the women often looked forward to because they involved friendly competition between the college and local high school teams.  Good sportsmanship was a goal repeatedly emphasized throughout the next few years in the development of women’s sports, and to promote this, scores were not recorded.  In 1938, Mrs. Gene Hendrickson, the new director of the women’s physical education program, introduced ping-pong, shuffleboard, and badminton as new athletic options.  By the end of the 1930s, women’s sports at Elon had expanded to include calisthenics, bowling, tennis, basketball, baseball, volleyball, archery, track, horseshoes, and folk-dancing in addition to Mrs. Hendrickson’s contributions.

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