As my research on the early days of college field hockey in the United States continued, I was surprised to learn that the sport was played in the western part of the country much earlier than I had previously thought. I inadvertently stumbled across evidence that the sport was played by women at the San Diego Normal School (now known as San Diego State University) as early as 1903, which inspired me to research the state of California in more detail. I eventually learned that women at Stanford took up field hockey around the same time, although in neither case have I been able to trace the origin of exposure to the sport.
Through the digitized archives of the Stanford school paper, I was able to trace the events surrounding the first introduction of field hockey there in 1902 and 1903.
The first mention of field hockey at Stanford that I was able to find was in the December 16, 1902, issue of The Daily Palo Alto. “Out-door field hockey and handball will be added to the Roble gymnasium sports for next semester,” the paper reported. “Tournaments will be held.”
Less than two months later the same paper mentioned the sport again, this time reporting that “a hockey field will be put in order as soon as possible. About one hundred and seventy-five of the girls registered in Roble gymnasium will be taught the game.”
Work on the promised field seems to have progressed slowly, though, for it wasn’t until the April 24 issue that The Daily Palo Alto had an update: “The Roble hockey field, which was to have been ready yesterday, will be finished by next Tuesday.”
Only four days later, the paper had bad news to report: “The contractor for the Roble hockey field who agreed to level it for $50 found the sum insufficient for carrying on the work. A collection will be made among the Women’s Athletic Association to raise the required amount.”
As the spring semester drew to a close, one final bit of bad news was offered: “Work on the Roble hockey field has been delayed and will not be resumed until next semester.”
But while the Stanford class of 1903 may have graduated without their promised chance to play field hockey, by October things were looking better.
“Under the direction and coaching of Miss Stella Rose, the head of Roble gymnasium, hockey has been introduced for the first time in any Western university as a collegiate sport,” the October 27 issue of The Daily Palo Alto reported. “On Fridays the 10:15, 3:30, and 4:30 classes practice regularly on the hockey field recently completed back of Roble gymnasium. Great interest is being shown, both by the gymnasium students and by those not enrolled, all of whom are eligible for the work. It is the intention later on to hold a series of preliminary tournaments, similar to the tennis try-outs now being carried on. In this way the best material will be developed. Interclass meets between the squads may be held.”
Interest in field hockey at Stanford waxed and waned several times over the following decade before taking hold for good in 1917, when an ongoing series of intercollegiate games with Mills College and the University of California were first taken up. More recently, Stanford has finished in first place in the Northern Pacific Field Hockey conference in each of the past six seasons. They lost to eventual national champion UConn in the second round of the 2014 NCAA Division I tournament.