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From the Collections: The Sporting Life

It seems appropriate at this time of year to consider the role sports played in the lives of Woman's Medical College students, particularly in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. While a number of options were available over time, the one that seemed most popular throughout the years was basketball.

Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania basketball team, 1912-1914. (The Legacy Center Archives and Special Collections)

1913-1914 WMC basketball team, l to r: Helen Houser, 1915; Anna Taylor, 1915; Regina Downie, 1914; Lora Dyer, 1914; Myrtle Jane Hinkhouse, 1914

Indeed, although a gymnasium was established in the 1880s and fencing made its mark as the first official athletic club in 1898, nothing seemed to hold the attention of the student body quite as emphatically as basketball.

Women working out in the Woman's Medical College of Pennsylvania gymnasium. Copy photograph of print from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, April 7, 1888, p. 125. (The Legacy Center Archives and Special Collections)

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, April 7, 1888

Two Woman's Medical College of Pennnsylvania students fencing, 1899. (The Legacy Center Archives and Special Collections)

L to R: Florence Richards and Ella Grim, class of 1899

The sport is mentioned frequently in student publications, especially in the 19-teens. There are complaints:

"There's a really fine gymnasium going almost to waste in connection with our college."

"We ought to have a good sized class for an hour, two days a week. A half hour of light exercise, Swedish [sic] drill perhaps, and then a half hour of basketball."

- The Esculapian, Vol. II, No. 5, p. 8 (April 1913)

There are more subtle suggestions:

Basket Ball.
"At the College there is a good gymnasium, fine dressing rooms, and shower baths. If you are not able to play, show your College spirit by attending the games and encouraging those who do."

- Student Handbook, 1909

There are explanations of just what's so great about basketball, anyway:

"The basket-ball teams will be organized in the near future. It is earnestly desired by those who played last year that every girl who possibly can, will seek this form of recreation. It is an opportunity not only for good, healthy exercise and mental relaxation, but one for meeting members of the different classes in a social way."

-The Esculapian, Vol. II, No. 1, p.8 (October 1910)

And there was even a little bragging; not only had the 1912-1913 WMC team defeated the YWCA team 47-11, they'd even made enough money on admissions to buy a new basketball.

Poor tennis was left in the dust!