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Women, Sport and Modernity in Interwar Britain

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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 Three ‘To make them men or women of character and worthy citizens of our great Empire’

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: Public provision of sports facilities Introduction From the late nineteenth century the state took an increasing interest in the provision of spaces for sporting activities.1 Concerns about ‘rough’ culture and lack of open spaces where healthy sports could take place led to three main anxieties. Firstly, a belief existed that lack of space inhibited the playing of physically demanding sports and that workers were thus becoming unfit. Such worries were particularly prominent in the aftermath of the second Boer War when the poor quality of recruits highlighted the general poor levels of health amongst young men.2 Secondly, urbanization ensured that the working classes and middle classes were spatially separated, and in this environment the working classes developed their own distinct cultures. Such cultures arguably drew on the opportunities available to people, thus focusing primarily on local streets, pubs and shops. Beaven has argued that the development of ‘street culture’ did not necessarily encompass any new forms of recreation but rather, because it now took place in the only space available – the street – it became much more visible to the ruling elites.3 Thirdly, there were concerns over the moral impact of 1 Callum Brown, ‘Popular Culture and the Continuing Struggle for Rational Recreation’, in Tom M. Devine and Richard Finlay, eds, Scotland in the Twentieth Century (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 1996). 2 Brad Beaven, Leisure, Citizenship and Working-class Men in Britain, 1850–1945 (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2005), 90. 3 Ibid, 89. 102 Chapter Three this ‘developing street culture’, focused primarily...

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