What the Accepted Origin Story Leaves Out

It is impossible to overstate Constance Applebee’s importance with regards to the early history of college field hockey in the United States. Her boundless energy and evangelical zeal for the sport changed the landscape of female athletics in this country forever. But the idea that field hockey didn’t exist on college campuses in the United States before her arrival in 1901 turns out to be not entirely true.

Take, for example, this picture:

Lawn_Hockey_Team_1900I found it online here, and the description indicates it is a picture of “the YMCA Training School’s (now known as Springfield College) 1900 lawn hockey team.” Springfield College was a hotbed of athletic innovation around that time, having been the site of the invention of basketball in 1891 and the early development of volleyball in 1896, so it isn’t surprising to learn that it was ahead of the curve with regards to field hockey.

lawnhockeyFurther research seems to support the idea that the game could be found at Springfield even earlier. M. I. Foss, identified as the captain of the class of ’99 hockey team at the Springfield Training School, wrote in an entry for Spalding’s Athletic Library: “The game was introduced in the Springfield Training School by Dr. McCurdy in the fall of 1896, and after a season of play the English rules were adopted, and so far as we can learn, this school is the only place in this country where the English game is played.”

Girls and AthleticsAnother edition of Spalding’s Athletic Library had more to say on the subject: “Dr. J. H. McCurdy of the Springfield School in writing of the game says: ‘The men at Springfield first played the game of field hockey in 1897. Regarding where field hockey was first played in this country (by girls), the girls at Mount Holyoke College had begun to play the game, I think, before Miss Applebee’s arrival in this country. They had been down to a number of our championship games. Arrangements had been made for some of our students to coach the Mount Holyoke girls in hockey, when I found Miss Applebee was in this country and recommended their getting her.’ ”

So now I have some new things to look into. Where did James McCurdy learn of field hockey, for one thing. And now I really have to look more closely at what was happening at Mount Holyoke.

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