Exhibit highlights history of women's athletics at Penn State

January 17, 2011

"From High Heels to High Hopes: Women’s Intercollegiate Athletics at Penn State," a Penn State University Archives exhibit, is on display from Jan. 18 to June 7, in the Hintz Alumni Center on the University Park campus.

Women at Penn State were participating in sporting events as early as the 1900s in their physical education classes. From the early 1920s until the early 1960s, women participated in the Women’s Athletic Association (WAA), then the Women’s Recreation Association (WRA), which emphasized social recreation and the development of skills in various sports and activities. Women’s intercollegiate athletics began in 1964, with the first field hockey game played against Susquehanna University. Over the next few years, women’s teams were formed in golf, basketball, fencing, gymnastics, lacrosse, riflery, tennis, softball, bowling, swimming and diving, track and field, cross country and volleyball.

The passage of Title IX of The Federal Aid to Education Amendments in 1972 changed women’s sports. It prohibited sexual discrimination, resulted in the elimination of the rule forbidding scholarships and aid for women’s sports, and assisted in the formation of the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). The NCAA took over women’s athletics in 1982. There are presently 13 Penn State women's teams playing in the Big Ten Conference. Women’s ice hockey, currently a club sport, will begin varsity play in the 2012–2013 season.

Penn State individuals and teams have enjoyed much success through the years, resulting in conference championships, tournament appearances and national championships. A number of women have gone on to participate nationally and internationally on professional teams and at the Olympics.

From the high-heeled women at the beginning of the 20th century to the finely tuned athletes of today, women’s athletics at Penn State has seen tremendous progress, giving women the opportunity to compete at the college level as well as national and international levels.

This exhibit features photographs from the Penn State University Archives collections. For additional information, contact Paul Dzyak at 814-865-2123 or Paul Karwacki at 814-863-9870.

  • Women's track and field, taken in 1919.

    IMAGE: University Archives
Last Updated March 21, 2011