Women’s Athletics at KU

Posted on May 15, 2018 in News and Sports

KU Women's letter sweater

The Kenneth Spencer Research Library on KU’s campus features seasonal exhibits curated by the library’s archivists. From Jan. 30 to Apr. 30, the library showcased the athletic achievements of KU women through their exhibit “Women’s Athletics at KU: From Physical Education to Recognized Athletic Program.” The display celebrated the strides the University has made in giving women the opportunity to exceed outside of the classroom.

Formation of the Women’s Athletic Association

Marian Washington

Women’s Athletic Director Marian Washington

Before the creation of university-sponsored teams, women at KU could only participate in club sports. The first documented sport for KU women was the Tennis Club in 1892. A few years later, women’s basketball was added in 1897.

In 1912, the students and faculty of the Women’s Department of Physical Education established the Women’s Athletic Association, or WAA. The first three sports under the WAA were hockey, tennis and basketball.

While women could now compete in intercollegiate competitions, funding was very limited. Students were expected to supply their own equipment and transportation, so individual sports held fundraisers to cover the cost, such as the gymnastics team who held an annual carnival so they could afford traveling to competitions.

Earning a letter sweater

How to earn a WAA letter sweaterThroughout this ever-changing landscape of women athletics, the letter sweater served as a literal badge of honor. The WAA awards these letter sweaters to athletes based on criteria outlined in the 1925 Jayhawker yearbook. Each woman had to accumulate 75 points to earn their sweater.

Women could earn points from excelling in their sport, as well as from more obscure ideas of success such as good posture and maintaining grades.

Impact of Title IX

By the 1960s, club teams received funding from the Student Senate, yet not enough to cover all of the costs. Although Title IX was passed in 1972, changes were not immediate.

According to KU’s Office of Institutional Opportunity and Access, Title IX’s purpose is “to end discrimination on the basis of sex in education and applies to all programs and activities that receive federal funding.” However, Title IX’s passage in 1972 had no immediate effects on the WAA.

The WAA won a victory in 1974 when the state and the Student Senate allocated a combined $122,435 for women student-athletes. Women’s Athletic Director Marian Washington was able to completely fund all nine sports, covering the costs of coaching staff, equipment, transportation and lodging. It was not until 1979 that the men’s and women’s athletic departments merged to meet the federal funding requirements.

Today Title IX plays an active role in providing equity for male and female student-athletes. Under Title IX, three key principles apply to men’s and women’s athletics: equitable opportunity to participate; equal proportion of scholarships; and equal treatment and benefits.

–Brianna Mears

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