Names like Serena Williams and Ronda Rousey have become household names in recent years thanks to their impressive athletic performances and visibility in the mainstream media through the likes of sponsorship deals and morning-show interviews. It’d be hard to deny that these two powerhouses — or their female counterparts in any number of sports — are indeed athletes, and elite ones at that. Still, it’d also be hard to deny that it wasn’t always like this: Female athletes have historically struggled for recognition.
The history of women in sports goes back much further than the Title IX-like reforms Americans used to hearing about today. Even without all the bells and whistles that we’ve come to expect in modern day sports, female athletes throughout history have managed to find both a pastime and a successful professional career in sports. You’ve probably never heard of these women, but their accomplishments would probably place them among the Alex Morgans and Danica Patricks of the modern world.
You’ve also probably never seen these illustrations and photos of female athletes, but they provide a fascinating contrast between where we started and where we are now, as well as insight about how we’ve gotten there. After all, it’s not just the clothing that has changed since these images were produced.
Miss Wicket and Miss Trigger, 1790
This print from 18th-century Britain shows two women, fictionally named Miss Wicket (left) and Miss Trigger (right), partaking in the everyday men’s activities of playing cricket and hunting pheasants. The illustration was originally intended as satire, according to the British Museum. Although some women played cricket sparingly at the time, the first women’s cricket club was not formed until 1887, roughly 100 years after the illustration was published.
Mrs. Jack Hobbs, 1925
Ada Gates Hobbs was married to Sir John Berry “Jack” Hobbs, a professional cricket player in England in the early 20th century. This photograph of Mrs. Hobbs was taken near the middle of her husband’s professional career, when cricket and the Hobbs name were extremely popular. It’s not terribly surprising that Mrs. Hobbs is shown wearing a dress in the photograph, however, it probably does make you grateful that heels are no longer the most-accepted form of beach footwear for women.[…]