Long before Title IX ensured equal access, women made their own place in 5C athletic spaces

Various women in 50's uniforms play basketball, baseball, boxing and running.
(Lucia Marquez-Uppman • The Student Life)

To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Title IX’s passing, as well as Women’s History Month, TSL is covering the conditions before and after the law changed the experience of women athletes at the 5Cs.

For the majority of the 5Cs’ history, women haven’t had the same athletic opportunities as men. Despite this, many pre-Title IX pioneers forged their own way, often without institutional support.

Students spearheaded intramural, club teams for female athletes

Prior to Title IX’s 1972 mandate that federally-funded athletic programs offer an equal number of women’s and men’s teams, there were no female varsity teams at any of the 5Cs. 

There were, however, some club and intramural teams for women. One of the earliest examples can be traced back to 1903, when Pomona College established the first collegiate women’s basketball team in Southern California. In a rare deviation from standard procedures at the time, the women’s basketball team was formed three years before the men’s. The women competed against local high schools until 1909, after which they played their first collegiate match against the University of Southern California, losing 17-3. 

A team of women line up and pose for the camera.
The Pomona College 1903 women’s basketball team poses in front of Holmes Hall. (Courtesy: Honnold Mudd Library)

Progress in women’s athletics crawled along slowly thereafter, picking up pace in 1919, when the Pomona student body voted to grant athletic letters to women. Through the 1920s, women’s participation in athletics increased, including at Scripps College, which was the only other member of the Claremont Colleges at the time. 

A TSL article from Oct. 31, 1928 headlined “Women plan swim meet in December” documented this growing participation.

“Women on the campus have shown more interest in swimming as a sport this year than for almost any year previous to this,” TSL reported.

Another article from Oct. 18 that same year, headlined “Scripps tennis and archery teams meet” described the self-managed nature of women’s sports at the time.

 “The heads of sports for the two teams, in archery and tennis have been elected and are planning the program for this semester,” the story said. “These girls will arrange all tournament plays and all things moving in the line of competition. The addition to twenty five more girls for each team means greater opportunity in the whole athletic program for the year.”

A Feb. 12, 1929 TSL article announced the advent of the women’s tennis season. The teams were formed after tryouts and divided by class year, in preparation for inter-class matches and a Pomona vs. Scripps tournament.

A group of women play field hockey.
Scripps College students play field hockey on an old field located north north of 12th Street, where Harvey Mudd is currently located. (Courtesy: Ella Strong Denison Library)

More informal ways for female students to get involved in sports

In the late twenties, Pomona brought in professionals to lead workshops for women in activities such as dance and golf.

56 women signed up for dance classes taught by a professional named Miss Van Gelder, according to an Oct. 10, 1928 TSL article.

“Miss Van Gelder has had the advantage of a great deal of training in dance expression,” the article said. “She calls the work she is giving ‘creative dancing’ in order to distinguish it from the hack-eyed ideas of ‘interpretative’ and a ‘natural’ dancing. She defines dancing as the outpouring of emotion recreated in movement and governed by laws of technique with sin, the added quality of the expression of the individuality of the performer. 

“At any rate, the girls enjoy going thru (sic) limbering motions with music and dressed in gaily colored tunics,” the piece added.

Another athletic opportunity for female students was a 4-lesson golf course, announced to the student body in a Oct. 28, 1928 TSL article. The classes were led by a professional from Mountain Meadows Country club.

“Attention all ye feminine mashie wielders — Regular golf classes start today,” the article announced.

Ruth “Bump” Andersson, skier extraordinaire 

Bump Andersson SC ’44 poses with her skis while on a ski trip with the newly-formed Ski Club. (Courtesy: Ella Strong Denison Library)

The 1944 edition of Scripps’ yearbook, La Semeuse, documented the foundation of a new organization whose goal was to increase female athletic opportunities.

“Drawing more girls out for sports than have been seen on the Scripps athletic field for many a term, the Scripps Athletic Association has inaugurated a new system of sports participation this year. The main aim of the new program is to prepare the girls to pursue [their activities] on a [recreational] basis.”

One student who took advantage of this new system was Ruth “Bump” Andersson SC ’44.

“Her main interests are Texas and skiing. She loves to whip off on spur of the moment ski expeditions to Sun Valley, Yosemite or Baldy (if and when there’s snow),” her yearbook biography read. “As president of the Ski Club, she has done a great deal to make the sport more popular than ever.” 

Helene Mayer, the best female fencer of all time … and Scripps graduate 

A woman practices fencing if front of a group.
Helene Mayer SC ’34 demonstrates a lunge while teaching a fencing class.

In the decades that followed, several standout female athletes attended both Pomona and Scripps.

Helene Mayer SC ’34 is perhaps one of the most accomplished athletes to have ever attended the 5Cs. An exchange student from Germany, she attended Scripps for two years and graduated with a social work certificate. 

Before coming to Scripps, she had already won gold in fencing at the 1928 Summer Olympics in Amsterdam. At the following summer Olympic games in Los Angeles in 1932, she returned to compete, two hours after learning that her boyfriend had died. Despite this, she still ended up finishing fifth. 

While at Scripps, Mayer took classes and led fencing classes for her peers, according to Scripps College’s photo archives. 

After graduating from Scripps, her story got a lot more complicated. Despite being Jewish, Mayer was invited to compete for Nazi Germany at the 1936 Summer Olympics. She accepted, and because of this, she is a controversial historical figure. Some saw her decision as selfish and saw her as a traitor, while others believed she was trying to protect her family from the repercussions of refusing.

Golf superstar Betty Hicks PO ’47 took flight in the golf world

After Mayer took center-stage at the Claremont Colleges in the 1930s, another world-class female athlete came to study in Claremont — Betty Hicks PO ’47. 

At the young age of 18, only two years after she first picked up a golfing club, Hicks won her first tournament.

While at Pomona, she competed in many tournaments and helped create the Women’s Professional Golf Association, which later dissolved but was nonetheless an important step in establishing women’s professional golf.

In the span of 10 years, Hicks had been named the Associated Press Woman Athlete of the Year, served in the Coast Guard during World War II and taught golf across the country. 

She later went on to become a flight instructor, adding to her already impressively varied list of accomplishments.  

Barriers to entry in a pre-Title IX world

While some women were able to find a place for themselves in sports, this opportunity was not afforded to all. Many of the athletic activities were expensive and students did not receive financial support from their respective academic institutions. 

Although Bump Andersson and some of her peers were able to go on ski trips with Ski Club, they ended up having to exclude some students due to cost barriers.

“It is extremely unfortunate that there was not enough snow on the nearby mountains for those who had neither the time nor the money to make more extensive trips,” the 1944 La Semeuse yearbook said in its Ski Club section.

It’s also worth noting that those female athletes who were able to participate in sports were overwhelmingly white. In the years before 1972, both Scripps and Pomona had very few students of color in attendance. Thus, sports remained an activity reserved for primarily white, wealthy men.

Facebook Comments