In honor of the amazing women from all countries competing at the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio...a reminder that women in sports is not necessarily a completely modern phenomenon...
In these days of Title IX when young women can participate in pretty
much any sport they choose, it’s easy to forget that just a hundred
years ago, anything much more strenuous than a decorous horseback ride
in Rotten Row, a gentle game of tennis or maybe—maybe—a few holes
of golf was frowned upon by the medical profession and society alike.
Girls, move freely and break a sweat? How un-lady-like!
there have always been a handful of sports to which young women have
been given grudging access…and one of them was archery. Here was a sport
at which it was unlikely you might become overheated or over-excited.
It was a sport you could do while wearing a corset (in fact, wearing a
corset might even help!) And it gave you a chance to order adorable new
clothes, like the archery suit from 1829 worn by this young lady at the
was a reasonably popular sport in 19th century England, due in no small
part to the important role it played in English history. In the middle
ages, English bowmen were famed (and feared!) in warfare. English
longbows could launch an arrow capable of piercing plate armor, which of
course did not make French knights very happy during the Hundred Years'
War. Several kings passed laws requiring all able-bodied men over the
age of 17 to own a bow and arrows and establishing mandatory weekly
shooting practice. This fell by the wayside once firearms became
widespread, but interest in archery never died…and indeed, recreational
archery enjoyed a resurgence with the foundation of the Royal
Toxophilite Society in 1781. Toxophilia (isn’t that a dreadful
sounding word?) means “love of archery”, and several prominent members
of the nobility became members of the society, most notably the Prince
of Wales (who later became Prince Regent and King George IV). They
established a permanent clubhouse and shooting range in 1833 in Regent’s
Park in London where practices and in-club competitions were held
weekly in season…and, unusually for this time, they held an annual
Ladies’ Day invitational competition every July with prizes given by the
society. Go girls!