Woman power, 1903

I did it again. Started writing and got caught up in a wonderful line of research. My heroine of the WIP in real life loved to play basketball. This started me looking for what she might have been wearing while she was playing, and I found treasures, treasures, treasures!

It’s easy when we imagine the past, especially women in the past, to think of only the preserved, public personae, the photographs and portraits in evening dress, or in the first decade of the twentieth century in the obligatory shirtwaist and skirt. But just as there is today, lives had so much more depth and variety. Women’s physical fitness was starting to gain momentum as the fashion for tightly corseted bodies started to wane.

The rise of a middle class didn’t hurt either; life was no longer so physically active for most women that the idea of exercise would have been superfluous. Physical education was introduced to schools as early as the 1820s, although it’s hard to find information about whether it applied to girls as well as boys. In fact, the very house I live in was previously part of the Round Hill School in Northampton, Massachusetts, which in 1823 was the first school in the U.S. to have a physical education program. It was a boys’ school.

Still, back to my original research topic: What did women wear for this exercise? Skimpy tennis outfits and silky basketball shorts were a long way off. Predictably, women’s exercise had to be as genteel as the women themselves. Exercise was fine, as long as they were covered. Of course, all this covering inhibited movement, but those women persisted. I, for one, am immensely impressed that they squared their shoulders and went for it, despite everything.

This begs the question of exactly which sports were deemed appropriate for women. Nothing that required women to go upside down and expose their legs, or that involved bodily contact—at least, not intentionally. That pretty much left tennis, golf, field hockey, ice skating, horseback riding, fencing, basketball—quite a lot, actually.

I’ve gathered a few photos here, but there are lots more on this site, which is linked to a book, Daughters of The Lost Century. I do not dare purchase this book only because I would probably spend weeks reading and enjoying it, and although women’s sports is an aspect of my current project, it’s not the central theme. I encourage you to take a look!

That site is where I discovered this extremely fun video that edits together images of women in sports and exercise with a rather contemporary sound track. Enjoy!

 

Related Posts

Medieval Measurement: Time

Medieval Measurement: Time

I pride myself on doing my research thoroughly and efficiently—as my course, Rein in Your Research attests. Yet the one topic I always have to investigate again and again when I write novels set before the 17th century concerns measurement. Many of the units and types...

read more
The lies of memoir

The lies of memoir

Writers of historical fiction consult many sources to try to get as complete a picture as possible of the time, place, customs, and characters in their novels. And primary sources are the gold standard when it comes to research. But there is a caveat, and that has to...

read more
Treasures of the Internet

Treasures of the Internet

It seems every day, even when I've thoroughly researched a subject or a person and am in the middle of writing about it or her, a simple session of Internet research turns up new sources and resources that at the very least enrich, at the most reinterpret what I'm...

read more
Writing a Novel Beginning

Writing a Novel Beginning

One of the greatest challenges in writing any story is figuring out where it begins and where it ends—most writers know that all too well. What seems like the obvious beginning may not be, and the tidy ending might end up having to come unraveled in order to make the...

read more
Story vs. History

Story vs. History

I was at a writing workshop a couple of months ago, and one of the participants commented that writing historical fiction is easy, because the story is already there. I didn't say anything at the time, but it's been bugging me ever since how to articulate why that is...

read more
The Coronation of Edward VII

The Coronation of Edward VII

Originally scheduled for June, 1902, it was postponed because the Prince of Wales had acute appendicitis, and had to have surgery. The heroine of my WIP attended the coronation when it eventually took place on August 23, 1902. Remarkable to have film records of the...

read more
I thought I knew about early cinema

I thought I knew about early cinema

I was never a true aficionado, but I'd watched my share of silents: D.W. Griffith, Buster Keaton, Charlie Chaplin etc. While doing research for my two existing (unpublished) novels that take place around 1910 in New York, I was astonished to see just how much...

read more

Comments

0 Comments

Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published.