From Dainty to Powerful: Women's Athletics at UCM Evolves over 100 Years
All former athletes are encouraged to come back to campus for homecoming this fall for a special celebration that will focus on the history - especially the past several decades - of women's athletics at UCM.
When they return, they'll see that today both men and women student athletes enjoy a robust, well-supported competitive sports program, world-class coaches and top-notch facilities.
"We've come leaps and bounds compared to the early days of women's athletics," said Kristin Anderson, who won the NCAA Division II 5,000-meter track title this spring. "Everyone treats us with equal respect. Central Missouri's fans cheer us on just as they do with the Mules. They understand that we have to work just as hard to reach our goals."
Victorian Expectations a Different Matter
That hasn't always been the case. Before the 20th century, society's expectations and the Victorian standard of the "perfect woman" discouraged women from physical exercise. For the next 60 years, the emphasis was on recreation and participation rather than competition.
When expectations and aspirations of women began to change, UCM was one of the first universities to support extramural women's competition, long before a true intercollegiate athletics program for women was nationally mandated. Since the early 1970s, the Jennies have flourished, fielding some of the best student athletes in the country and capturing countless individual, conference, regional and national titles.
Ladies Don't Sweat
When UCM was founded in 1871, the stringent rules and long hours of study at Normal No. 2 didn't mean all work and no play. From its earliest days, the student body (which was then about 70 percent female) enjoyed recreation on campus and swimming, hiking, boating and ice skating at the nearby Pertle Springs resort.
But female student athletes were discouraged from doing anything strenuous. Even medical professionals predicted overuse of one part of the body would drain the energy of other parts, making academic excellence more difficult. They believed that physical exercise could actually deteriorate women's health.
When greater numbers of women began attending college, schools began to hire physical educators to supervise female students' physical activities and care for their health needs.
Football Team Forms in 1894
The men at the Normal School formed the first campus football team in 1894. Shortly after the turn of the century, they were competing in football and baseball on the intercollegiate level and in several other sports on an intramural basis.
Competitive intercollegiate sports for women were still decades away. Instead, women were limited to recreational play and PE classes, known then as "physical culture." Activities included lawn tennis, basketball, handball, three-deep, double-tag, dodge ball and medicine ball.
PE Controls Women Sports
For more than half of the 20th century, all aspects of the physical education and sports program for women, both here and throughout the nation, were firmly controlled by the physical education faculty, while men's collegiate sports were controlled from the beginning by students.
As women started to compete against athletes from outside their school, physical educators nationwide soon curtailed this type of competition and practically eliminated it by 1930. They decided instead to structure women's sports to promote health and the social benefits of physical activity while avoiding the abuses and scandals prevalent in men's intercollegiate athletic programs.
Tea Parties & Dolphins
At Central Missouri State Teachers College, the Women's Athletic Association rewarded women for participation in physical activity rather than for competition. Points could be earned for hiking, tennis, basketball, hockey, track, baseball, dancing, swimming and gymnastics. Later soccer, volleyball, horseback riding, archery and other sports and activities were added to the list.
Women Had Play Days
As an alternative to intercollegiate competition, women participated in Play Days, where players were divided into red, blue, green and yellow teams. Each color team had representatives from several schools. The WAA conducted the first such Play Day for Missouri teachers colleges in 1929 with 67 athletes from the other four regional state institutions attending.
In the 1930s intramural competition replaced interclass or color team competition, and by 1940, about 400 women participated in intramurals. Sports included soccer, hockey, basketball, volleyball, badminton, bowling, deck tennis, table tennis, softball, swimming, tennis and archery.
Next Came Sports Days
In 1937, Sport Days replaced Play Days, and teams from participating schools began competing against each other instead of combining representatives from several schools to form teams. However, the format was still designed to provide opportunities for many to participate while limiting the individual from developing into a highly skilled competitor.
CMSTC hosted its first Sports Day in 1941 with 200 women from 13 colleges participating. Events were tennis, table tennis, badminton, ten quoits, duck pin bowling, archery, golf and swimming. The day ended with an afternoon tea party.
A featured athletic activity for women in the 1940s was participation in the Dolphins. Although they did not compete, they showcased their aquatic talents in full programs of choreographed water gymnastics, often with lights, music and colorful, extravagant costumes.
Other oversight organizations replaced the WAA throughout the next several decades, but the physical education staff continued to provide the leadership for women's athletics. The intercollegiate athletics program at CMSC still didn't include women, but the extramural program that developed and expanded during the 1960s provided a means for higher-level female athletes to compete at the intercollegiate level, even if it was still on a limited basis.
Sports Days continued, but other tournaments and head-to-head competition began to replace them. The teams in the women's extramural program came to resemble varsity teams rather than intramural teams, especially in basketball, volleyball, tennis and field hockey. Extramural competition was also available in softball, golf, track and field, gymnastics and swimming.
Nationally in the mid-'60s, the feminist movement and the Olympic Committee's involvement inspired a small group of female physical educators to promote a true varsity sports program for women in opposition to the established anti-competition philosophy. However, lack of funding was the biggest roadblock.
Competitive Sports Arrive
At UCM, Jessie Jutten, chair of the women's physical education department from 1955-1975, had the foresight to allow women to participate in competitive sports ahead of this national movement. CMSC also was more advanced than other Missouri colleges because its extramural program was already receiving financial support. When Title IX of the Education Act of 1972 was passed, demanding equality of opportunity, facilities, practice time, coaching and travel for all athletes regardless of gender, the university was more than ready to launch its women's intercollegiate athletics program.
The women's athletic teams were named the Jennies in February 1974. And the rest, as they say, is history.
— Shawna Smith '06 and John Inglish '69, '75
Information for this article was culled from a thesis, The Development of Women's Intercollegiate Athletics at UCM, 1900-1990 by Marianne L. Woods, available at the J.C. Kirkpatrick Library or Department of Health and Human Performance.