In the first decade of the 20th century, a great deal of progress had been made in the realm of cultural attitudes towards women’s college athletics in the United States. But on the question of intercollegiate competition, a generational divide still existed.
Constance Applebee’s efforts to establish an American College Hockey Association and to encourage field hockey games between varsity teams from different schools met with resistance from some of the same women who had eagerly introduced the sport to their students.
Lucille Eaton Hill, the director of physical training at Wellesley College, had been one of the first to invite Applebee to teach field hockey to American college women in 1901. But when asked about the possibility of playing games against other colleges, she immediately shot down the idea.
“While I think, theoretically, in could be very pleasant to play games with other colleges,” she wrote to Applebee in December 1902, “I believe it is not practical and would involve expense, fatigue, excitement and time which would bring no returns in greater numbers drawn into moderate exercise. Inter-class competition is all we need as stimulus.”
Senda Berenson of Smith College, a pioneer in the field of women’s athletics who had first introduced basketball to her students mere months after the invention of the sport, was also steadfast in her opposition to competition between schools.
“I do not believe in intercollegiate or interscholastic games,” Berenson wrote. “The great desire to win, the hard grind of practice – not for the joy of playing but to develop a winning team – the travelling of teams to different schools and towns, often unchaperoned, bring about nervous excitement, worry, sleeplessness and all the evils of athletics. Mild competition is good and indeed necessary – but in most cases this can be brought about through inter-class contests.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, the students themselves were much more eager to pursue competition with other schools. Frances Adams, a senior at Bryn Mawr College who had taken charge of the field hockey program there after Applebee’s initial week-long visit in October 1901, expressed her enthusiasm about the idea in a letter to Applebee while acknowledging the inherent resistance among college administrators.
“I am afraid there will be many difficulties to be overcome before you can succeed in forming an American College Hockey Association,” Adams wrote in November 1901. “I do not know much about other colleges, but from Bryn Mawr I can conclude that at present the colleges are a little backward about playing games among themselves. Universal opinion seems to be rather against it, as people seem to feel that it would not be right (or proper) for women to travel around the country as men do for football and maybe carry it to such an extreme. However, I do think that by persuading the authorities of the larger colleges for women that an intercollegiate association would be a good thing you could overcome most of the formidable prejudice against it, and I fully hope before many years to see an intercollegiate athletic association with uniform rules and the different colleges playing each other. I think it would prove a fine thing for each college’s esprit de corps as well as very broadening by contact with sister colleges.”
Bryn Mawr, where Applebee took over as director of outdoor sports in 1904, wouldn’t face another college in a field hockey game until the 1920s. But a 2-0 victory over the team from the Merion Cricket Club on November 6, 1902, began a tradition of matches against Philadelphia-area clubs, including an All-Philadelphia select team that the Bryn Mawr varsity team defeated for the first time in 1916.