Monday, June 25, 2012

Are Women Overdoing Athletics?

A 1902 Ladies' Home Journal features a lady golfer.



Are women overdoing athletics?

I'm not asking (the answer is obviously NO. Young and old, we're all couch potatoes and research shows that younger and younger  children are getting more and more out of shape each passing year. In Toronto schools they don't get their 20 minutes a day of exercise, a recent report showed. So that CTV Olympic slogan "The movement that changed Canada" is kind of ironic, isn't it? With each passing Olympics, the kids get fatter and fatter. )

No, this is the title of an editorial in a 1906 Ladies' Home Journal I have on hand, which I purchased to research my digital trilogy School Marms and Suffragettes about 3 young women, the Nicholsons, in 1910 Canada.

I've chosen this editorial to 'deconstruct' in honor of Wimbledon, which is just getting started. As the Peter Sellers character Chance in Being There says, "I like to watch."

I've taken to watching tennis this past year only. (My friends like it, my kids like it, my brother likes it, so why not?)

 I've just discovered it is lotsa fun watching very fit youngish men and women play a very complicated game. I'm your typical  out of shape voyeur. And judging from the number of ads during major tennis tournaments for Viagara and the other one, well, I'm not alone in living vicariously through top athletes.

Anyway, my brother likes tennis a lot and he lives in Europe and last night he was telling me that European cities still have courts where ordinary people can play. Is this true?

In Montreal, this is not the case. Now, there used to be courts everywhere, in all the parks. The Nicholson women of  1910 era Richmond often played tennis (I have it in their letters.) So even small towns like Richmond had courts, or some kind of arrangement.

My mother, living in Notre Dame de Grace in the 1930's, played tennis often with her friends. And I'm pretty sure they didn't belong to a club. I may be wrong.

By the 1960's these courts were not in use. They were still there, but seldom used. Mostly were locked if I recall, and their courts all bumpy and cracked. (Aha. It costs money to maintain a court.)

  We kids did not play tennis in the city in the sixties. And our gym course consisted of 50 minutes a week of frightening games, like dodge ball.

Today, I believe, it's all about clubs, although there are a couple public courts in my community.

In the 80's I sent my kids for a summer to the local tennis club in Hudson, where they learned a bit about the game, but didn't like it much as their friends weren't there and the only time the courts were available to them was at 12 noon, when the sun was overhead and scorching.


Edie in Casual Camping gear, so I suspect this dress is what she would wear to play tennis.

Here's the Ladies' Home Journal editorial, slightly edited down for laziness. *I'm lazy about typing too.

"The very best of medical men are beginning seriously to think that young women are overdoing their athletics, and that their attention, as well as that of their parents, should be called to the attending dangers.

These physicians agree that physical exercise is as necessary for women as it is for young men, but that it must be strictly along sex lines.

Misdirected physical exercise are injurious to young girls and make for future invalidism.

Woman is physiologically different from men and no education can change her, but false education can pervert her and muscular exercise emulating male athletes can injure her beyond recovery.

The medical men fully realize that girls and boys have characteristic differences. These differences are mental as well as physical. This fact is too frequently ignored, they maintain in girls' preparatory schools with coeducational affiliations and in the high schools.  It is among these institutions, according to physicians that the abuse of athletics is mainly seen.

It is just now a nice question in the minds of these men whether the pendulum has not swung too far in this craze for unnatural physical exertion. A woman being different from a man, no girl can, without injury to herself, essay pole vaulting, high jumping for broad jumping. Every mother should understand that such forms of jarring, unnatural exercises are dangerous and injurious to young women, and especially to young girls.

Many girls who think they have only temporarily strained their physical endurance have in reality injured their nervous systems.

Girls between fourteen and sixteen years of age should do no physical work except walking and swimming and such household labour as does not involve straining or lifting.

Any form of exercise that causes undue excitement, such as basketball games between rival schools or classes, is too great strain on the developing nervous system. "

These forms of exercise take life from the growing girl, and she can never bloom with all her rightful strength  if deprived of one minute's grown of nerve power.

...

Hmm. My first thought. Have them take off their corsets maybe!

 I wish I had this article in 1968, when I was forced to play field hockey in my bloomers and teddy blouse in front of the boys at high school, where there were about 10 gym teachers in 1967. (The teddy blouse tucked and snapped closed between the legs  so that there would be no wardrobe malfunctions. It was made of cotton so did not stretch.) I think I would have liked tennis, since I had excellent eye hand coordination, if they had allowed me to dress with some dignity.

Aleksandra Wozniak is from Ste. Therese, which was in my high school's catchment area. There's some kind of tennis program there, must be anyway.

Funny, children  in 1910 worked in factories, or as domestics,  long long hours, too, but THAT WAS OK. (My story School Marms and Suffragettes has a sub theme about child labour at the Textile Factory in Magog) But then this magazine was aimed at the "nervous" middle class.

Hey, Look. Another 1902 Ladies Home Journal, one I don't own, features a lady tennis player. Clearly the same artist.  Sharapova doesn't need a corset, I've noticed.