Women Hoopsters

The following is a guest post by Julie Stoner, Reference Technician in the Prints & Photographs Division.

I like most sports; I’m just not very good at playing any of them. And as a much better spectator than participant, I always look forward to “March Madness,” a whirlwind month of basketball tournaments held by the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). To my ears, there is nothing quite like the “swoosh” sound a basketball makes when it drops perfectly through the net. Millions of people are tuning in to the current men’s tournament, but there is a second competition playing simultaneously that I also enjoy watching: the women’s National College Championship! Often overshadowed by their male counterparts, the women’s teams play a month of fast-paced, bracket-busting, thrilling games to crown a national champion.

[Female students playing basketball in a gymnasium, Western High School, Washington, D.C.] Photograph by Frances Benjamin Johnston, circa 1899.

[Female students playing basketball in a gymnasium, Western High School, Washington, D.C.] Photograph by Frances Benjamin Johnston, circa 1899. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c30220

Unlike most sports of the time which were exclusively played by men, basketball was extremely popular with both men and women from its very beginning in 1891, especially with college students. The game spread rapidly across the country with the first women’s intercollegiate game taking place on April 4, 1896 between Stanford University and the University of California at Berkeley.

Photograph shows group portrait of an all girls basketball team.

Monroe high school, girls basket ball, team, Munroe, Wis. Photo copyrighted by E.H. Gloege, 1912. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a37797

Photograph shows women of Vassar College playing outdoor game of basketball with a few spectators in attendance.

1913-1914 basketball game, no. 38, Vassar College. Photo by E.L. Wolvern, May 1913. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3a23349

Now, 120 years after that first intercollegiate game, and with many changes to the rules, equipment, and uniforms of women’s teams, hundreds of basketball teams from around the country competed to become one of the 64 teams to participate in the NCAA tournament.

I am captivated by these photographs of women jumping into a new sport in a time when sports were thought to be the domain of men. While the photos do make me wish I had more athletic talent, they also bring a sense of excitement for the tournament finals ahead.

P.M. Gen. New with girls basketball team of Dept. Photo by National Photo Co., March 1, 1926.

P.M. Gen. New with girls basketball team of Dept. Photo by National Photo Co., March 1, 1926. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/npcc.15577

Rebound Sue Kelly in white and Ann Santorelli of St Johns 15 try for ball. NYWT&S staff photo by Wm. C. Greene, 1961.

Rebound Sue Kelly in white and Ann Santorelli of St Johns 15 try for ball. NYWT&S staff photo by Wm. C. Greene, 1961. //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3c20849

Learn More

  • Enjoy other photographs of women’s basketball available in the Prints and Photographs Online Catalog.
  • See many more images relating to women in sports of all sorts!
  • View the many resources relating to women’s history available through the Women’s History Month portal from the collections of The Library of Congress, National Archives and Records Administration, National Endowment for the Humanities, National Gallery of Art, National Park Service, Smithsonian Institution and United States Holocaust Memorial Museum.

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