A week or so ago I gave a talk about early women’s athletics at Rice. This turned out to be an enormously challenging topic. There was almost nothing that could be easily found– certainly there was no file anywhere labeled “Girls Sports”–and so every bit of information had to be discovered one thing at a time. I may have startled my audience a bit when I admitted that there was far more I didn’t know about it than I did. Mostly what I did know was about tennis–the Girl’s Tennis Club was one of the earliest organizations on campus and it managed to sustain itself for decades on not much more than enthusiasm. Here they are in 1916:
There was also a little bit about golf–not in any way official, but rather a sport that the girls participated in privately. I found this in a Rice scrapbook from the late teens. It was probably taken at the old Houston Country Club as Hermann Park golf course didn’t open until the 1920s:
In the course of my talk I indulged in some speculation: it seemed to me that the early Rice women must have been engaging in other athletic pursuits off campus. My best guess was that they probably were swimming too, most likely at the Y. Well, today I ran across a 1919 clipping in a different scrapbook that shines some light on this and also makes clear that the young women most definitely wanted more chances for participation in athletics. It turns out I was pretty close:
But South End Junior High? What the heck is that? It turns out to be the place that later becomes San Jacinto High School, quite close to the Rice campus.
Bonus: The Biology Department used to raise rabbits on campus. I’ve seen glimpses of rabbit hutches here and there in old scrapbooks, although I couldn’t find one this afternoon. I did, though, stumble across a picture of a member of the class of 1919, Ruby Belle South, holding one of those rabbits. That might be a corner of a hutch behind her.
Girls’ sports — what about tea-trike races? CK
Ruby always said she worked in the Bio lab. A picture is pretty good confirmation.
Do you know if the Girls’ Tennis Club picture is spring or fall 1916? Trying to decide if that a frosh Ruby toward the right in the back row.
San Jacinto High School is known today as one of the main buildings of the Houston Community College Central Campus. Here is its Historical Marker, which refers to its 1914 origin as South End Junior High.
The Houston Country Club referred to is of course now Gus Wortham, a public course owned by the city on the southeast side, opened in 1908. The current HCC was opened in the late 1950s.
Young ‘uns like you, I know, find it hard to believe how INCREDIBLY sexist institutions were, not so very long ago (which is why I think Mad Men serves a historical mission!). When I was in high school in the 1960’s girls were thought to be too delicate to play full-court basketball! So I’m not surprised that no one thought to provide athletic opportunities for women before that in colleges.
As the commercial used to say, we’ve come a long way, baby!
Here’s a story on Ruby Belle South, later Ruby South Lowry, M.D., of Laredo, from TAMIU’s website: http://www.tamiu.edu/newsinfo/newsarticles/2011-Lowry033111.shtml
That’s a really wonderful piece. I’m going to include the link in my post this afternoon so more people will see it.
Thank you very much–I truly appreciate it.