Sunday, August 9, 2015

Women and Tennis and the Rogers Cup,

In honor of the Roger's Cup in Toronto, the WTA Roger's Cup, I'm reprising a post I wrote a while back about women and tennis and McGill's Donaldas.

The Donaldas were named 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.

These Donaldas were pioneers in many ways.

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 gruelling 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. For studious young men vigorous exercise has always been encouraged, ever since the Greeks, but the McGill 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 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.

That's what it is about today, isn't it. Selling things?