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Women, Sport and Modernity in Interwar Britain


Fiona Skillen

This book offers a unique examination of women’s increasing involvement in sport during the period 1919-1939. Focusing primarily on sites of participation, it analyses where and how women accessed sport and their participation across class, age and marital groups. It also demonstrates the diverse ways in which sport was incorporated into women’s everyday lives, with particular emphasis on the important and yet often neglected area of informal participation, so fundamental to understandings of women’s sport. The unique combination of in-depth studies, drawing on the voices of the women themselves through oral testimonies, and the tracing of broad national and international trends, contributes to an innovative and comprehensive exploration of the evolution of women’s sports participation across Britain during this significant period.


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Chapter One ‘A sound system of physical training’


: The development of girls’ sports education in interwar Britain The development of physical education From the middle of the nineteenth century physical education had become an integral yet relatively unregulated feature in the curriculum of middle- and upper-class girls.1 Girls’ physical education, like their broader educa- tion, was largely confined to the private sector and remained patchy and disparate throughout the late-Victorian period. The need to correlate the increasing demand for wider education for girls with the prevailing rules of propriety ensured that any changes to women’s education were slow.2 As a result, the establishment of women’s physical education took a long time. The 1868 government-based Schools’ Inquiry Commission on the Education of Girls led to the establishment of the Association of Headmistresses of Endowed and Propriety Schools, through which early pioneers of women’s education and especially women’s sports education (such as Miss Beale and Miss Buss, who were both headteachers at prominent girls’ schools) spread their ideas and information on the latest practices.3 1 Jennifer Hargreaves, Sporting Females: Critical issues in the history and sociology of women’s sport (London: Routledge, 1994), 63. 2 Kathleen McCrone, ‘Culture at Girls’ Public Schools’, in G. Walford, ed, The Private Schooling of Girls Past and Present (London: The Woburn Press, 1993), 37. 3 Hargreaves, Sporting Females, 63. 18 Chapter One Early pioneers of women’s education were divided over the issue of physical education. Many deemed physical training at best unnecessary and at worst dangerous to developing female bodies. Others, however, such as Madame...

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