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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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This book has shown that the rates of women’s participatoin in sports were increasing throughout the interwar years in Britain and across a broad range of activities. Indeed both the statistical evidence and contemporary accounts emphasize the diversity of sporting interests amongst women. The picture of women’s sport that emerges from this is not one of straightfor- ward evolution. Rather, it indicates that the process was deeply complex. Huggins has argued that the number of women playing sport increased significantly in this period but primarily in those sports that were less ‘dominated’ by men.1 This was not necessarily the case. The numbers of women playing sport increased across every sport examined in this study, including those which could be considered ‘masculine’ sports. Sports such as golf and tennis were, at the turn of the twentieth century, dominated by men. Through the interwar years, levels of female participation grew considerably, but there remained still proportionately more male players in these activities. It is also worth noting that some women became active players in sports such as football and cricket, if not in great numbers.2 It would seem that it was not so much male dominance in a particular sport in itself but rather a perception of it being suited to men because of specific traits such as aggression, strength or endurance which inf luenced levels of female participation. Indeed medical research was quick to dismiss the perceived biological limitations of the female body that had for so long held many women...

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