The Early Years of Women’s Athletics

Talented female athletes compete on college fields, courts, pools and diamonds throughout the year. But this was not always the case. The struggle by women for athletic opportunities at Bloomsburg and nationwide is a story of perseverance and determination.

From the Normal School’s earliest days until the 1920s, athletic opportunities for women at Bloomsburg were limited to physical education classes, recreational activity and interclass competitions. This practice began to change in 1926 when Lucy McCammon was hired to teach women’s physical education classes. McCammon organized the “B” Club so women could reach athletic milestones and earn letters for participation in sports, as men did. The club also competed against women from other schools in “Play Days.”

Lucy McCammon umpires a game during a women’s physical education class on the lawn near Science Hall in 1938.

When McCammon retired in 1958, her position was filled by Eleanor Wray, who believed strongly that women should have the same opportunities as male athletes. At a meeting of the Collegiate Athletic Committee on May 16, 1961, she made a motion to adopt a women’s intercollegiate athletics program and the motion carried unanimously.

But it was just the beginning. President Harvey A. Andruss had to be convinced of the benefit to the college and to female athletes, especially in terms of cost to the school. On Nov. 6, 1961, Wray provided a memo and a 10-page justification outlining her vision for women’s athletics at Bloomsburg State College.

Wray’s goal was to start small. She proposed an extramural program where women’s teams from other institutions would provide the competition, but not at the same level as the men’s intercollegiate program. She hoped support would build and athletic opportunities for women would gradually expand. The Athletic Committee unanimously approved the program as Wray recommended, and in January 1962, Andruss agreed as well. He remained concerned about the budget, however, wanting to avoid an increase in the $20 student activity fee.

In fall 1962, Wray organized and coached a varsity field hockey team, with the first game played at Lock Haven on Oct. 9. Although the Huskies lost a rain-shortened match, the coach was pleased with the effort. A basketball team led by another physical education instructor, Joanne McComb, began practicing over the winter, and the first game, also at Lock Haven, was played on Feb. 1, 1963. This time the Huskies fared much better, dominating the Bald Eagles by a score of 35-27.

Women’s basketball continued at BU, but field hockey wasn’t as fortunate. The team lost its field following the 1964 season when construction began at its south end for the new library building. Without adequate facilities, field hockey was dropped temporarily, returning as an intramural sport in 1967.

Field hockey got off to a slow start when it was reinstated to varsity status a year later with home games played on fields on the current upper campus. Formerly part of a country club, the land was purchased in 1962, and the field was the only athletic facility on the hill until Nelson Field House opened in fall 1972. Carol Bolton Frankel ’73, a four-year letter winner, remembers the early years when, as much as she and her teammates loved the sport and wanted to win, their roster came up short. Male students, primarily soccer players, were recruited to help field a practice squad.

The passage of Title IX 40 years ago was the major impetus that finally expanded the number of intercollegiate sports for women at Bloomsburg and nationwide. Part of the Education Amendments of 1972, it stated educational programs receiving federal financial assistance could not discriminate on the basis of sex. Although athletics was not mentioned, it soon became apparent that this was the catalyst that would enable women’s opportunities as athletes to grow.

In fall 1972, Wray became coordinator of women’s intercollegiate athletics and soon more opportunities were available for female athletes. After a decade of just two varsity women’s sports, the first official swim meet was held Jan. 20, 1973, followed later that spring by tennis. Spring 1977 saw three more sports inaugurated: lacrosse and softball on April 13 in matches at Bucknell University, and track and field five days later. After competing with the men for several years, the cross country team had its first independent season in 1980 and women’s soccer had its first game Sept. 6, 1990.

At a time when collegiate athletics was seen as the domain of men, two pioneers, Lucy McCammon and Eleanor Wray, were advocates of opportunities for young women. Thanks to them and others who followed in their footsteps, nearly 200 female athletes compete in nine intercollegiate sports at BU today. •

—Robert Dunkelberger,  University Archivist

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