Smith College Class of 1902 Basketball Team (C.1902), Wikimedia Commons.

More than a century ago, the first women’s collegiate basketball championship was played in Massachusetts between Smith College sophomores and freshman. “Smith March Madness 1892” is a 8:20 minute video about the game. Senda Berenson, known as the “Mother of Women’s Basketball” and Director of Physical Training at Smith, introduced the game of basketball, developed by James Naismith the year before, to her Smith students. “Major newspapers and magazines in the Northeast covered the championship game, and reporters equated the popularity of the event to the Harvard Yale men’s football game.”

Senda Berenson wrote an article entitled “Basket Ball for Women” in the September 1894 issue of Physical Education, available courtesy of Springfield College, Babson Library, Archives and Special Collections.  She says, “The value of athletic sports for men is not questioned. It is a different matter, however, when we speak of athletics for women. Until very recent years, the so-called ideal woman was a small waisted, small footed, small brained damsel, who prided herself on her delicate health, who thought fainting interesting, and hysterics fascinating. Wider and more thorough knowledge has given us more wholesome and saner ideas.”

Digital Commonwealth and other archives and libraries have helped to preserve and provide access to documents, images, and audio and video files related to women in sports. One example is the audio file for a lecture given at UMass in 1978 by Wilma Rudolph, bronze medalist in 1956 Olympics and three-time gold medalist in 1960. At the time of the lecture, she had just published her autobiography, Wilma, and hearing her story in her own voice is inspirational. In the audio file, she speaks of her upbringing as the 20th of 22 children in small-town Tennessee. As a child, the fastest woman in the world had survived pneumonia, scarlet fever, and polio, and wore a leg brace for much of her early life.

The challenges that Wilma Rudolph had to overcome were many. She graciously gave credit to the family members, friends, fellow athletes, and coaches who helped her along the way. As she tells her story, she says that there came a point when she had to have faith in herself in order to reach her full potential.

Wilma Rudolph at the finish line during 50 yard dash at track meet in Madison Square Garden (1961), Wikimedia Commons.

Wilma Rudolph was a world class athelete before Title IX was signed into law. She had to make her way on her own and with the support system that she was able to construct without the benefit of the law enshrining women’s rights.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”), signed into law on June 23, 1972, was designed to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities in all public and private elementary and secondary schools, school districts, colleges, and universities receiving any Federal funds .Title IX has broader implications than just creating a level playing field for women athletes. But in the years since the law was passed, untold opportunities have opened up for women in sports.

Women’s Sport Foundation, “Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women” (2020), p 13.

The implementation of Title IX has had a rocky road. It was not clear in the original law exactly how educational institutions would balance spending for men’s and women’s athletic programs. Universities with men’s football and men’s basketball programs that were spending and generating vast sums of money felt threatened by the law. Digital Commonwealth provides a link to a 1979 MacNeil/Lehrer Report on Title IX Women’s Sports. In his introduction to the half hour video file, Robert MacNeil says “many people wonder whether glamorous, big-time, big-money college sports are threatened by the drive to give women an equal share in college athletics. Tonight, sex discrimination in sports, and the debate over a law called Title IX.”

Progress has not been easy. Digital Commonwealth and its member institutions will continue to provide access to documentation of the uphill battle for equity in sports for girls and women.

Barbara Schneider, Member Outreach and Education Committee

Women’s Cross Country Race (1995)
Courtesy of Springfield College, Babson Library, Archives and Special Collections.
Two small birds on a bough
Two Small Birds on a Bough Stow Wengenroth (1906-1978). Prints and Drawings

Although summer slips away too quickly for some of us, those of us who wilt in the heat and humidity are happy to see the end of July.  If you’re not, don’t fret.  August is promising more of the same.

The Boston Public Library was busy this month, adding to the Leslie Jones Collection as well as adding over 100 items of Thomas Wentworth Higginson Correspondence.  Fans of the 2013 Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum Anders Zorn exhibit will be happy to see the BPL’s Zorn etchings.  Allow me to draw your attention to the Stow Wengenroth Prints and Drawings, though.  The exquisite Two Small Birds on a Bough (left) is from this collection, which includes other bird drawings and some lovely Maine scenes.

Medford Historical Society & Museum has added significantly to its already impressive Civil War Photograph Collection.  The Lawrence Public Library has also added more photographs plus a new collection of World War I-related items.  The Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute Library began the harvesting season early with 64 new items to their collections.

The heavy hitters this month are the Massachusetts Historical Society (4,161) and Springfield College Archives and Special Collections (5,181), who re-harvested 4 new collections.  I’m not sure that the Arthur and Madeline Slicer Turnvereine Stein Collection is one of the newly-harvested collections, but I offer the jovial barrel-shaped character stein image below because we all need a cool drink of something during the dog days of August.

Boston Public Library
Anders Zorn (1860-1920). Etchings and Other Works – 204 items
Leslie Jones Collection – 6 items added to existing collection
Stow Wengenroth (1906-1978). Prints and Drawings – 372 items
Thomas Wentworth Higginson Correspondence – 156 items

A barrel shaped character stein
A barrel shaped character stein A. and M. Slicer Turnvereine Stein Collection

Lawrence Public Library
Art Work of Lawrence and Vicinity Photograph Collection – 64 items added to existing collection
James Regan – 9 items

Massachusetts Historical Society
 1 new collection – 4,161 new items re-harvested

Medford Historical Society & Museum
Medford Historical Society Civil War Photograph Collection – 826 items added to existing collection

Springfield College Archives and Special Collections
3 new collections – 5,181 new items re-harvested

Sterling and Francine Clark Art Institute Library
64 new items re-harvested

"Aerial View of Eastern States Exposition Grounds, Springfield, Mass." From Springfield College Archives and Special Collections
“Aerial View of Eastern States Exposition Grounds, Springfield, Mass.” From Springfield College Archives and Special Collections

As is appropriate for this autumn season, a lot of the collections added to Digital Commonwealth in the past month have been harvested (pun, obviously, very much intended). Don’t miss out on exploring all of the wonderful new items added to the site!

Boston Public Library

Anti-Slavery (Collection of Distinction) – 1819 items

Charlestown Lantern Slides – 616 items

Stereograph Collection – 6 items


NOBLE Digital Heritage

Collection reharvested – 6048 items


Phillips Academy Andover

"Arms and the Man overtunic, shirty, and pants." From Costume Archives of Williams College.
“Arms and the Man overtunic, shirty, and pants.” From Costume Archives of Williams College.

Abbot Academy Photographs – 689 items


Springfield College Archives and Special Collections

Cliff Smith YMCA Postcard Collection – 5212 items


Suffolk University, Moakley Archive & Institute

12 collections reharvested – 2800 items


Williams College

23 collections harvested – 1800 items