Early Athletics

Basketball team photograph
Basketball Team, 1923

By 1918, women played on intramural tennis, hockey, basketball, baseball, indoor track, and swimming teams.

Women's athletics began in 1907, with the opening of a girl's gymnasium in McMillan Hall. 

For several years female students played tennis in local "girls' tournaments," but basketball was the first official women's sport at Washington University.  By the spring of 1908, the University had three women's basketball teams playing inter-class games. 

Starting in 1911, the Women's Athletic Association regulated tournament play.  Winning teams often received an engraved cup.  Washington University pennants were the prize in 1913 when the "McMillan girls" hosted an intercollegiate track and field meet with Smith, Wellesley, Vassar, and Bryn Mawr colleges. 




Women earned "W" varsity letters from 1919 - 1947.  Playing "major" sports, such as basketball, field hockey, or baseball gave 100 points.  Swimming, hiking, rowing, or archery ("minor" sports) added fifty points for participation.  An athlete received her "W" for earning 1,000 points, and then could be inducted into the athletic honorary Sigma Lambda Epsilon.

Yearbook page for various women’s sports
Hatchet Yearbook, 1938 (page 188)


During the Great Depression of the 1930s, one of the most popular women's sports on campus was archery.  Intercollegiate tournaments were played on a point-based system communicated by mail, avoiding costly travel expenses.