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Early Women's Basketball

[ 1910 women's team]

Many people believe that women's basketball began only after President Richard Nixon signed Title IX of the Educational Amendment Act in 1972. This act stated that no one could on the basis of sex be excluded from any educational program or activity that received Federal financial assistance. Title IX brought players, money, and spectators to women's sports.

However, Title IX didn't create women's sports. Some women have always enjoyed sports, and basketball was an early favorite. In 1892, just a year after the game was invented, a Smith College instructor, Senda Berenson Abbot, introduced the game to her school. She had read about this new sport, and she thought it would be suitable for the women at her school.

[team with long skirts]

She changed the rules somewhat, so players wouldn't be overwhelmed by "nervous fatigue." The court was divided into three sections, and forwards and guards stayed in their places. The number of players on a team was determined by the size of the court. By today's standards, the games were orderly but lively.

Clearly the women were not overwhelmed by nervous fatigue. Within five years, women's basketball had official rules, and the game had spread. Women were playing at Vassar, Mt. Holyoke, Wellesley, and other schools throughout the country.

[standing team][standing team]


Pioneer basketball players were handicapped by their clothing as well as by the conventions of the day. Early pictures show long heavy skirts, which gradually gave way to bloomers and then to even less restrictive garments. However, the clothes changed faster than social mores. Many people were stunned to see women engaged in active, physical competition. Some were scandalized.

[ team with banner] Players were encouraged to remain "ladies" at all times. They should be neat, pretty, respectful, and restrained. Early postcard images reflect this. They show demure girls, usually seated in formal poses. Every once in a while, though, a player's humor, vivacity, or individuality will be displayed on the image.

By 1924, women were more common in sports. There was an International Women's Sports Federation, and basketball was part of it. However, it took 50 more years before the sport was covered by the national media. More than two decades later, the WNBA was formed. Women finally had a league of their own.

[team with fancy uniforms]

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