Sports has been on my mind recent recently with round-the-clock coverage of the men’s and women’s NCAA basketball championships. Looking through issues of the Theta magazine from years past, one can find many references to chapter members participating in a variety of intramural and intercollegiate sports, and not just basketball but also (to name a few) swimming, basketball, tennis, and baseball.
Women’s participation in organized sports is often considered a recent occurrence due to the influence of Title IX, passed in 1972, but the history of college women playing on intercollegiate and intramural sports teams can be traced much further back. Many women’s groups (such as Kappa Alpha Theta) on numerous campuses helped provide the players for these teams.
By 1896, the Theta magazine mentions members playing on college teams as well as competing against other women’s groups. Several sports historians reference the first intercollegiate college women’s basketball game occurred in April 1896 between Stanford and UC Berkeley. (For the record, Stanford won 2-1.) We do not know if any Thetas played on either team, but accounts do reference Dr. Clelia Duel Mosher, Psi/Wisconsin, serving as the scorekeeper at the game. Mosher was a faculty member at Stanford who was a major proponent of exercise to improve women’s health and a big supporter of women’s basketball.
In November 1896, Delta/Illinois reported that there will be a field day for women, and that chapter members announced they have already started practicing and will play “basket ball and tennis.”
Stella Vaughn, a charter member of Alpha Eta/Vanderbilt in 1904, was the school’s first women’s physical education director and organized Vanderbilt’s first women’s basketball team in the fall of 1896, where she was both player and coach. The first game was held in March 1897, and the male students were barred from watching the game. Some did sneak in, though!
For an overview of women in sports history, check out: