“The daring maidens could not be frightened off”: Girls swimming, 1919

A couple of years ago I was asked to give a talk about the history of women’s athletics at Rice. That sounded kind of interesting and I didn’t know much about it, so anticipating some enjoyable research I readily agreed. After running into one dead end after another, though, I wound up giving a talk about how, apart from the tennis club, there wasn’t much evidence of women’s athletics at Rice until the 1940s. Ever since this episode I have been assiduously collecting every reference to Rice girls playing sports that I’ve come upon and there actually are quite a few, although they are scattered all over the collections. This is one of the earliest I’ve seen–a 1919 plea for physical training facilities for co-eds:

Girls swimming 1919

No pool for girls was forthcoming, of course, nor one for boys either. This was long, long before the era when the comfort and amusement of undergraduates was a primary concern of colleges and universities. It wasn’t until 1950 when the new gym opened that Rice students got their swimming facility. It was, predictably, a huge hit and the girls began holding organized intramural races almost immediately.

Intramurals 1954 swimming Dearmond

I think those must have been Rice-issued swimsuits because I can’t imagine these attractive young women would voluntarily wear such things.


Extra Bonus: Look what was sitting on the sign above the carpenter shop this morning! (Many thanks to Hannes Hofer!)owl from hannes

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15 Responses to “The daring maidens could not be frightened off”: Girls swimming, 1919

  1. Don Johnson says:

    I am not too surprised about seeing one type of swimsuit. I used the gym for a long time and a “Phys Ed” uniform was required. No standard swimsuit though, but I could believe in the gym’s early days that there was a uniform for swimming too!

  2. joni says:

    I was surprised to see two-piece swimsuits, especially in the 1950’s!

  3. Nancy Burch says:

    We were wearing those awful suits in the 60s. They were a hideous green color, made of fabric that appeared to be wool. The worst part was that you didn,t have your own suit — you checked one out like you did a gym uniform, which at least had been laundered.

  4. Francis Eugene "Gene" PRATT, Institute Class of '56 says:

    The girls of my era also hated those Institute issued suits.
    I thought they did get laundered though — the suits, not the girls.

    I save a picture of one of our girls who as a woman became a high official in her Church. I also have the picture of her in her Church attire. And she knows full well to keep me in the good graces of her Big Boss, lest I post those pictures on our Class website.

  5. mjthannisch says:

    Do we know where or what South End Junior High School is today?

    • Melissa Kean says:

      It became San Jacinto High School sometime in the late ’20s, I think. Not sure what that is now–possibly HCC?

      • mjthannisch says:

        Interesting. Apparently it was one of two junior high schools in Houston, and among the first junior high schools in the USA. You are right, I did a little looking and indeed it is still there under HCC together with Temple Beth Israel. Thanks for pointing me in the right direction.

  6. mjthannisch says:

    Led me into some other alley as well:
    Look at the article preceding Mr. Horn’s. Studies showed that students who studied both German and English did better in English than those who only studied German. Sadly he is wrong in his prediction that all students would learn German. Of course it is not German in particular that is the cause. Anytime you truly study a foreign language, you learn a lot more about your own.

    • Galloway Hudson - Wiess '60 says:

      Not surprising, is it, “that students who studied both German and English did better in English than those who only studied German”. Think about it. How could it be otherwise?

  7. Yes, originally South End Junior High, later San Jacinto High School, now HCC. 1300 Holman.


    Apparently, in the 1950s in some Houston public schools, nude swimming was a thing, mostly because fibers from wool or cotton bathing suits would damage pool filters and pumps and because there was no real way to deal with wet bathing suits at school. Many of us voiced skeptical responses but there were a fair number of people who had experienced it.


    • mjthannisch says:

      I think it lasted later than that, because I remember a friend in high school who had gone to a junior high in Houston telling us that they had to swim nude at his jr. high because there was a concern about fibers in the filters and pumps,
      I am curious about not being able to deal with wet swimsuits as they did have washers and dryers where I went to Jr. High in Houston, but no pool. But Dick Dowling Jr. High was also a brand new building.

      • mjthannisch says:

        I forgot to mention a date, this was in 1970 so he would would have been in jr. high from 1968-70

  8. Carolyn Brewer says:

    Do you know the swimmers? They are class of 1958, Ann Farmer, Carolyn Dearmond (may be misspelled), & Patti Blackledge. Yes, those were Rice issued swimsuits.

    • Francis Eugene "Gene" PRATT, Institute Class of '56 says:

      Those girls looked mighty good back then.
      Even with those swim suits.
      And I would have told the ladies that, if any of them had ever talked to me.
      But where is Penny, the other half of the Blacklege twins?

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