Separate Spheres and Separate Roles: Christian Beliefs, Medical Ideology, and Women’s Sport and Physical Activity in the Late 19th and Early 20th Century United States

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Abstract

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the United States, women were limited in their ability to participate in sport and physical activity. The prevalent thinking of the time assigned (white, middle/upper class) women separate roles. Based on Christian religious beliefs rooted in Victorian era ideology, women were expected to maintain a level of domesticity and morality in order to remain feminine. Similarly, medical professionals often construed women as weak and frail, due to the energy demand of the reproductive system. These two ideologies together limited women’s participation in both physical education and competitive athletics. Focusing primarily on the role of women’s colleges, it is argued that these limitations have had long term effects on the development of women’s sport, from intercollegiate competitions to the Olympic games.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)350-365
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of the History of Sport
Volume39
Issue number4
DOIs
StatePublished - 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • History
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)

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