A View from the Sidelines: Black Women Sportswriters in the Interwar Era

Friday, January 5, 2018: 3:30 PM
Columbia 6 (Washington Hilton)
Amira Rose Davis, Penn State University
In the years following World War One, organized athletics for black American women were on the rise. Rapidly expanding black educational institutions often featured athletic play days, intramural leagues and competitive intercollegiate teams for girls and young women. In cities such as Chicago and Philadelphia locally sponsored athletic clubs in churches, YWCAs and through the government provide additional opportunities for black women to play sports. This expanding sporting life inspired rigorous debate about why, when and in what way women should play sports. Despite some detractors, the Black Press featured consistent updates on women in athletics, with many publications offering reoccurring “Women In Sports” columns. While sports writing was still dominated by men in the inter war era, the pages of the Black Press began to feature a small but prominent cohort of women sportswriters specifically geared towards reporting on the experiences of women at play.

This paper examines the writings of black women sportswriters in the 1930s. As writers at prominent middle class black institutions, their columns highlight the tensions between prevailing notions of athleticism, femininity and respectability. Adding to emerging studies of the intellectual history of sport, this paper traces the ways in which black women sport writers tangled with contested meanings of athletic and respectable black womanhood as they sought to shape ideas around women in sport in America. Additionally, this paper seeks to link their writings to global debates that were occurring simultaneously about modern womanhood and athletic involvement. Ultimately this paper argues that black American women who curated sports columns for and by women, highlight a critical but oft overlooked site for developing concepts of modern womanhood and racial uplift in the mid-twentieth century.

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