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Poster showing woman holding tennis racket.
Field day--WPA recreation project, Dist. No. 2. Poster by Beard.

Women and Sports: Let the Searching Games Begin!

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The following is a guest post by Hanna Soltys, Reference Librarian, Prints & Photographs Division.

As we celebrate women’s history this month, we’re heading to the track, the open waters, the rink, the mat, the field, the mountains, and many more areas to highlight women in sports.

While there isn’t one set collection to explore this topic, we’ve put together a few tips and tricks for navigating the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog. It’s important to note that women in sports imagery can be found in many formats  and depict professional, amateur, leisure, and collegiate sports.

Woman running with football, letter "H" on her chest.
Woman playing football, Harvard University. Woodcut, 1905.
Poster showing woman holding tennis racket.
Field day–WPA recreation project, District No. 2. Poster by Beard, 1939.

To begin, search with variations of “women,” “girl,” “female,” or “ladies” in combination with the name of a specific sport; for example, girl golf and women golf searches give you very different results (over 80 more images when searching with the latter!). Try some other combinations–do you see the difference in returns based on which particular words are included in the online description? Searching with different words will help uncover more items of interest.

Sometimes, image records contain minimal information and more general searches work best. Team photos might not have every athlete identified or only player surnames might be used. Other times it is best to search only by the name of the athlete, as catalog record descriptions do not consistently include a reference to gender and you may inadvertently exclude relevant results by including women, girl, female or ladies in your search string.

We share some photographs on the photosharing site, Flickr, and members of that community continually help us identify people shown in the photos, including athletes. We add such identifications to our online record to help future searches, as you can see with this image of Gertrude Ederle and Aileen Riggin. Before the Flickr community’s assist, this image would only return when searching with the women’s surnames.

Screen shot showing description and small image.
Description for photograph originally captioned “Riggin & Ederle” and summary with information contributed by Flickr members.

The New York World-Telegram and Sun Newspaper Photograph Collection is a fantastic resource for women athletes—though be sure to search with both maiden and married names! For example, Billie Jean King has two folders in the collection, one with her married name (King) and one with her maiden name (Moffitt). Other athletes you can find in this collection are Babe Didrikson Zaharias, Althea Gibson, Alice Coachman, Wilma Rudolph, and even the young pool player Jean Balukas (among many, many others).

Tennis talk Althea Gibson, U.S. and Wimbledon tennis champion, gives some pointers on the game which has brought her international fame. Some 500 students attended the tennis clinic yesterday at Midwood HS, directed by Murray Eisenstadt, varsity coach. Photo by Ed. Ford, 1957.
Woman leaning over using a cue at a pool table
Jean Balukas lines one up in Grand Central Station. Photo by John Bottega, 1966.

Searching by nicknames rather than full names can also help you find material. For example, Mary Wright played golf under the nickname Mickey Wright. Searching with her nickname yields image results, while searching with her given name does not.

Screen shot showing four images of Mickey Wright.
Search results for “Mickey Wright” in the Prints & Photographs Online Catalog.

The Roll Call portion of the CQ Roll Call Photograph Collection is a great source of images from the late twentieth century, including Olympic athletes visiting Washington, D.C. or participating in Congressional activities. You’ll find athletes such as Florence Griffith Joyner, Bonnie Blair, Chris Evert, and Nadia Comaneci. (Most photographs in the collection are not digitized, but please contact us by Ask a Librarian to ask about help with the collection.)

Doing more general searches of sports team names (including male teams) and major events may uncover roles women played that you might not have known. In the Marilyn Church Collection of Courtroom Art is a drawing of then-Federal District Judge Sonia Sotomayor ruling on the Major League Baseball player salary cap in 1995, which you could find by searching “baseball strike.” In the George Grantham Bain Collection, you’ll find an image of the first woman to own a major league baseball franchise (when searching with “St. Louis Cardinals”), Helene Hathaway Britton.

Judge wearing robes leaning forward.
Baseball. Judge Sonia Sotomeyer [i.e., Sotomayor]. Drawing by Marilyn Church, 1995 March.

Britton standing, smiling while looking towards man beside her.
Mrs. Schuyler Britton, owner of the St. Louis Cardinals, and her husband, half-length, conversing. Photo by Bain News Service, 1913 Dec. 9.

We also are getting the archive of Toni Frissell ready for researchers, the first woman photographer at Sports Illustrated. Once completed, you will be able to search for assignments she completed for the magazine, such as this image of mountain climbers in Switzerland.

Two climbers on mountain, snow in background.
Mountain climbers, Zermatt, Switzerland. Photo by Toni Frissell for Sports Illustrated, 1954.

Ready for more tips and collections ripe with images? We plan to share more images and demonstrate tips at our March Reading Room Orientation, which will focus on finding images of women athletes. Please join us!

Learn more:

  • Register for the March Reading Room Orientation: Women in Sports. We don’t record the orientations, but you have your choice of two dates, and you can request the slides that we show through our Ask a Librarian account.   
  • At the 2020 National Book Festival Chelsea Clinton spoke about her new book She Persisted in Sports: American Olympians who Changed the Game. You can watch the author Q&A or her presentation, which premiered in September 2020.
  • Among the Library’s Research Guides, you can find guides pertaining to various sports under the subject “Sports and Recreation.” Most of these guides look at research within digitized newspapers found in Chronicling America.
  • Revisit past Picture This blog posts highlighting women athletes in auto racing, basketball, and tennis.

Comments (3)

  1. As we celebrate Women’s History month it is sad to know that as of 2021 we will be going backwards, thanks to the lies that transgender Men are actually women, given the rights to compete in women’s sports, use our showers and displace us across every aspect of our lives. This will certainly put women back hundreds of years and biologically most women have no chance of winning in sports due to physical differences. It will/(has) reverse much of what we’ve fought for and accomplished. It’s time for a reality check and stop the ridiculousness that we are all equal. Men are men and women are women since the beginning of time; Law doesn’t mean Truth. This “Man fantasy” needs to be challenged. It’s another way of keeping women barefoot and pregnant.

  2. Comments expressed on the blog do not necessarily reflect the views of the Library of Congress.

  3. I am grateful to the LOC for shining a light on the historical contributions of so many fascinating women. I never stop learning. Thank you.

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