(by Hannelore Sudermann, Washington State Magazine, Fall 2007)
One day in 1948 four Washington State College students tugged on their white rubber swim caps, adjusted their nose plugs, and plunged into a cold swimming pool. Three of them locked together head to foot to form a vertical underwater ring, and the fourth swam through it toward a photographer who captured the maneuver on film.
At first, Clark wasn’t sure how she’d connect with the project, especially since she’s not particularly athletic. But once she started looking through the scrapbooks and collections, she was hooked. She found women laughing, smiling, running, jumping, and dancing. She uncovered thousands of images of a campus alive with activity. “I even came across a few sports I didn’t even know existed,” she says. Field ball, for example, seemed to be a big sport in the 1920s. The ball was soccer-size, but Clark knew the game wasn’t soccer. The athletes were obviously using their hands to catch and throw the ball.
Her curiosity moved beyond what these students did for exercise to the logistics of doing it. “I can’t imagine participating in sports wearing the clothes they did,” she says. “In the early years they had big wool pants, big bows, and big shirts.” On their feet, she saw old-fashioned, well-worn shoes and boots with no cushion and no arch support.
As Clark sorted through the material, it struck her that the earliest photographs showed the widest range of activities: track, baseball, interpretive dance, basketball, archery, field hockey, and riflery. But later, in the ’50s and ’60s, the sports seemed to boil down to just a few, like gymnastics, bowling, and cheerleading. Clark wonders if the change had something to do with changing times and culture, or if photos of other sports just didn’t make it into the collections.
For a better understanding, she studied up on Title IX, a national gender equity law enacted in the 1970s and tested at WSU in the 1980s. The Pullman-based case, Blair v. WSU, resulted in a Washington State Supreme Court decision to provide student athletes in Washington equal support and facilities regardless of gender. That decision brought more funding for women’s sports and provided women with a greater variety of sports in which to compete.
But it may have been hard to match the sheer variety of activities from the earliest years of WSC when there was a real diversity of clubs and activities, says Trevor Bond, the special collections librarian who worked with Clark on the project. “It’s great to see that these things were on campus at one time, even if they aren’t around anymore.”
Many of the photos Clark included in the new digital collection came out of the University’s own archives of pictures shot by faculty, employees, and local studios. But others came from personal scrapbooks donated to the library by alumni, says Laila Miletic-Vejzovic, head of MASC and administrator of the state grant from the Washington Women’s History Consortium. The women’s history initiative, led by the Washington State Historical Society, is designed to preserve and make public the details of the history of women in Washington. The University is one of the technical partners in the initiative, and is eligible for state funding to delve into its archives, organize its documents relating to women’s history, and make it more accessible to the public.The archivists are hoping that more alumni will connect with this collection, either by contributing some of their own images, or by providing details of the photos already on-line. When Miletic-Vejzovic visited a library donor in Oregon last spring, she happened to mention the Women’s Athletics project. The alumna, Barbara Brooks '78, mentioned that she had been in gymnastics at WSU. In fact, it was one of the things that attracted her to the school, she said.
To view more photos of women athletes at WSU and learn more about the Washington Women’s History Consortium, click here.
Our Story site map
Our Story main page | Our Story categories | Help Desk
Site news | Contact | Give | Advertise
Washington State Magazine | Washington State University | My Story/Class Notes
Our Story is coordinated by
In partnership with
Our Story and Washington State Magazine are publications of Washington State University. All rights reserved.
P.O. Box 641227, Washington State University, Pullman, WA 99164-1227 USA | email@example.com, 509-335-2388
Accessibility | Copyright | Policies