Friday, July 10, 2015

Wimbledon, Makarova, Bouchard and McGill Donaldas

In honor of the Wimbledon Women's Final with Serena Williams and Ekaterina Makarova, that Genie Bouchard of Montreal was in last year, but, alas, not this year, I thought I'd reprint this little bit about tennis that I stumbled upon today in a 1972 thesis by Donna A. Ronish, about the pioneering women college students at McGill in Montreal.

The Donaldas they were called after the Women's College benefactor, Donald Smith or Lord Strathcona, who endowed McGill with money for a 'separate' women's college that was never totally separate.

The following bit is from a McGill Magazine of 1894 (just a few years after the first women students were accepted at that college).

"We would like to draw the attention of our undergraduates to the fact that our tennis court is once more making its appearance.

Since tennis is the only physical recreation offered to the Donaldas inside the college grounds, would we not do well to enter more heartily into the game? There is more benefit to be had from a 20 minute tossing of the ball than an hour's walk, for this is conducive to meditation, so that by an imperative demand for a quick eye, steady hand and swift foot precludes the possibility of deep thought.

Ethics and Euclid's problems are alike banished for the time, while all our energies are directed to the deft handling of the ball."


From what I have been reading, the early women's colleges in the US, Wellesley, Radcliffe, Smith put a premium on physical education, because one of the great fears of the era was that the grueling intellectual regime offered at college would damage a woman's fragile nervous system. Too much brain work, you see.

McGill was a bit behind the times. The first Donaldas were not exactly encouraged to take exercise, (except for walking in lady-like fashion) until a few of the students who did dare to participate in some sports got the best marks overall at school!

I wonder how Genie Bouchard would fare on the court if she had to wear a corset and move in a lady-like fashion?

Another problem was the McGill gym at the time. Exercise for studious young men has always been encouraged, ever since the Greeks, but the gym was a pretty leaky place, apparently.

When it came to young women, (of the upper middle and upper class) people were of a divided mind about the benefits of exercise. (Poor women, apparently, had heroic physical strength. They could work 14 hours a day  in factories, after all.)

Some people believed too much exercise was dangerous and could actually deform a woman, especially her 'woman parts.'

(In the 1960's, I loved to ride horses but there was still a rumour going around that riding horses made childbearing more difficult.)

At McGill, in the 1890's, the pro-exercise faction won out.  This is another quote from the same magazine, 1892.

"When girls are young they join with their brothers in many games and nothing contributes more towards their healthy development; but as time goes on they must gradually withdraw themselves from active fun, even a good romp among themselves being looked upon as unbecoming.

The gradual lengthening of the skirt and tightening of the dress make such exercise difficult if not impossible, and the girl soon finds walking is now almost the only exercise within her reach, and one that is difficult to keep up. The inevitable happens, the colour leaves her cheek and brightness the eye, headaches and indigestion are too frequently present; the muscles become soft and flabby for want of exercise, circulation is impaired.

Under such conditions the brain cannot be properly fitted to carry on the heavy mental work which forms such a large part of the occupation of this time of life.
A 1921 McGill Hockey Team. Edith Nicholson of Threshold Girl was tutor in residence in 1928 of the Hostel, the Residence for female Phys Ed Students at McGill. I have the yearbook the students (from all over Canada) dedicated to her.

My mother in law (second from left) with other Trafalgar Girls in Westmount Quebec in the 1930's. Trafalgar School, I just learned, was established before McGill's Women's College, and helped set the stage for the first female McGill students who likely came from Trafalgar or the Montreal High School for Girls.

Genie Bouchard attended another Westmount Private School, the Study. (I think.)

Anyway, I'm looking forward to the orange and pink parade of fashions on the WTA glamazons on the court tomorrow, during the match. Oh, and also 'the good romp' they will likely have.  I like orange and pink as a combo. Very much. And I'm not being shallow. I'm just as intrigued by the men's pretty tennis togs.

And something else I am figuring out as I promote Furies Cross the Mersey my story about the stuffy Montreal Suffragists of 1913 featuring McGill Coeds of Royal Victoria College and one campus tennis player: an Arts Degree back then didn't mean what it has come to mean. Arts Students studied subjects that would now be classified as Science.

Indeed, a big controversy was whether women graduates of McGill should be allowed to go to Med School. Most people agreed, the study of anatomy would be highly inappropriate for young ladies,  if not positively shocking.

(In the past, Botany had been considered OK for women to study, because looking at flowers was a fine female pastime. Carrie Derick, President of the Montreal Suffrage Association and first female full time professor at McGill was a Botanist. She used her understanding of Mendel and pea pods to promote eugenics.)

A major reason co-eds couldn't have separate education was the fact that laboratory work had to be done beside the males, as labs were costly to set up. Most people didn't worry for the girls. It was believed that young women had no interest in young men their own age. They worried for the boys, who might fall in love.

An Arts degree back then led men to the professions, while it led women to one profession, teaching (or nursing). This lack  of options for women university graduates continued until the Second World War and beyond.

Even weirder, Principal Dawson of McGill thought those first Donaldas, female McGill Students, should study more than Greek and Latin.

Archeology was big back then, these subjects were fashionable, apparently.