When the College Courses for Teachers department at Penn was founded in 1906, it opened up opportunities for women to enter a degree-granting program and led to a rise in women enrolled at the University in the early 1900s. This resulted in an increased demand for extracurricular activities, so Penn increased the recreational activities offered to women.
The earliest mention about sports for coeds is in the 1917 Women’s Yearbook. Several women approached the women’s Undergraduate Association in the spring of 1916, requesting that Penn offer them athletic activities. The University arranged for Penn women to play tennis near campus at the Kingsessing Playground and Gymnasium at 49th Street and Chester Avenue.
The following fall, a hockey team was formed as the first organized sport for women. The team, known as the Hockettes, played Philadelphia area colleges, including Temple, Bryn Mawr, Rosemont, and Ursinus.
For a short time, beginning in 1925, the Women’s Athletics Association at Penn (WAA) reduced the number of games played against colleges in the region in an effort to give more women a chance to participate in sports. In the 1926 Women’s Yearbook, WAA president Dorothy Schoell wrote, “The results have been particularly gratifying when we note that there were over fifty hockey teams playing on the River Field during the season last fall.”
Hockey became one of the more popular sports, whether women were playing on Penn’s team or just participating for exercise.
In this 1947 photo, Hockettes team members join in on a practice session on a campus field. Sports teams for women later expanded to include basketball, fencing, tennis, swimming, and crew.
For more information about this and other historical events at Penn, visit the University Archives online at www.archives.upenn.edu.