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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 Five ‘Women and sport: a change in taste’


: Sportswomen and modernity The emergence of the ‘modern woman’ in the interwar period was the result of a process that began at the end of the previous century. The ‘new modern’ woman was a symbol of youth and freedom: she embraced life and spent her time in the pursuit of fun and enjoyment.1 Sport was often featured as an important aspect of these young women’s lives. This chapter draws on advertising, media representations and newspaper and medical discussions of sportswomen during these years in order to explore the ways in which this group was perceived by the public. Todd has argued that the evolution of the ‘new modern’ woman was accelerated by the impact of the First World War.2 Women’s involvement in the war, she asserted, allowed them to dispel myths about their physical and mental capabilities and prove themselves as good workers in a number of new fields. When the war ended, women sought ways to continue to work in many of these new occupations. The war and the subsequent new employment opportunities for women directly challenged traditional ideals of femininity. 1 W.H. Haslden, ‘Women and Sport: a Change in Taste’, Daily Mirror (30 April 1921). The cartoon image was accompanied by the following explanation: ‘A young man’s fancy lightly turning to thoughts of love [in the past]. She is lovely, she is beautiful! What gentleness, what grace! The process still goes on, though inspired by slightly changed ideals. She’s lovely, beautiful! What perfect shots! She’s lovely, beautiful! And...

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