Archive for August, 2016

National Women’s History Museum Welcomes New Board Members

August 29th, 2016

Organization Enhances Strategic Leadership with Public, Private and Nonprofit Expertise

Washington, D.C. – The National Women’s History Museum (NWHM) is pleased to announce the addition of six new members to its board of directors: Molly Bordonaro, Jon Bouker, Mari Snyder Johnson, Cheri Kaufman, Julie Smolyansky and Joan Walker. The board provides leadership for delivering on NWHM’s mission to build a world-class museum on the National Mall that educates, inspires, empowers and shapes the future by integrating women’s distinctive stories into the culture and history of the United States.

“NWHM is pleased to have these accomplished members join our board at this exciting time in our evolution,” said NWHM Board Chair Susan Whiting. “These new board members bring their valuable expertise from the worlds of government relations, communications and marketing, community engagement, nonprofit strategy and business, as well as a firm commitment to ensuring women’s contributions to American history are included in our national narrative.”

About NWHM’s New Board Members

Molly Bordonaro served as the United States Ambassador to the Republic of Malta from 2005-2009, becoming the first American diplomat to receive Malta’s highest award, the Medal of Honor or Gieh ir Reublicka, for significant contributions to Malta and the Mediterranean region. She has also served as a member of the U.S. Congressional Commission on the Advancement of Women in Science and Technology, a board member of Portland State University’s Center for Real Estate, and as a member of the board of directors of the Fannie Mae Corporation.

Jon Bouker is a long-time government relations leader with extensive experience in the U.S. Congress, who brings his expertise in legislation, business relations and economic development. As co-practice group leader of Arent Fox’s government relations practice, he represents clients before Congress, The White House and federal agencies, particularly the General Services Administration. Jon also served as chief counsel and legislative director to Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) and minority counsel to Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.).

Mari Snyder Johnson is a business executive and CEO specializing in diverse entrepreneurial opportunities, an executive producer for both feature and documentary films and a passionate activist for socially conscious causes. She brings media and business management experience as well as legislative relationships and acumen. Prior to joining NWHM’s board, Mari served as an advisor to the organization’s president, Joan Wages, where she helped advance passage of the legislation that established the commission to study the feasibility of a National Women’s History Museum on the National Mall.

As a business executive, Cheri Kaufman raised funds for non-profit organizations such as PS1, American Cancer Society and New York Partnership Association. As one of the founding partners of Kaufman Astoria Studios, she played a crucial role in starting the studio on the successful path to its prominent place today in the New York film and television industry.  Cheri raised significant funds for financing and was in charge of construction cost and design, leading the campaign to restore the historic facility, which today encompasses an 18-acre campus, and is a recognized leader in New York film production.  She headed the studio’s advertising and public relations and participated in leasing studio space to major corporate clients (i.e. Lifetime Cable, Paramount, Universal Pictures). Under her initiative, all the studio’s sound stages are named after women who filmed there, including Diana Ross, Claudette Colbert and Helen Hayes. Kaufman currently serves as Vice President of Lifeline Organization of New York, and is also a member of the UN Women for Peace Committee and is a board member of the MoMA. She is also Founder and CEO of CiGive.

Julie Smolyansky became the youngest female CEO of a publicly held firm when she assumed that role at Lifeway Foods at age 27, and brings a successful track record in business and social advocacy to the Museum’s board. Julie bolstered Lifeway’s growth trajectory with innovative product development and marketing strategies, boosting annual revenues to more than $130 million by 2015 and expanded distribution throughout the U.S., Canada and the United Kingdom. She is a member of the United Nations Foundation Global Entrepreneurs Council and part of the 2015 class of Young Global Leaders of the World Economic Forum.

Joan Walker brings more than 25 years of experience in major corporations, leading world-class communications and marketing functions, building reputation leadership and brand strength to drive corporate performance. She combines research, marketing and strategic communications expertise and insights to support companies and their leadership teams through times of change, including M&A transactions, CEO transitions and corporate crisis. Most recently, Joan served as EVP Corporate Relations and Interim CMO for The Allstate Corporation. There she developed and led the company’s Reputation Leader- ship Strategy and Consumer-Focused Reinvention — initiatives that transformed the company into four distinct customer segments, each with a unique value proposition that achieved successful market outcomes. Prior to Allstate, Joan served as EVP at both Monsanto and Qwest Communications, where she helped her former Ameritech CEO lead the firm through a time of acute crisis.

“We could not be prouder of the board we have assembled and are confident that their experience and skills will be a great asset to the Museum,” said NWHM President and CEO Joan Wages. “They bring a variety of experiences and backgrounds that strengthen our strategic leadership and will help us achieve our vision of a world-class museum dedicated to incorporating women’s stories into American history.”

Breaking Records

August 10th, 2016

Olympic Infographic ALL Parts

Getting into the Games: Olympic Women

August 8th, 2016

Team USA’s 2016 Rio Summer Olympic roster includes 292 women among its 555 members, the largest number to have ever competed for any country. This is a tremendous evolution from the very first modern Olympics in 1896, which excluded women. The Olympics’ founding organizer, Pierre de Frédy, Baron de Coubertin, envisioned a festival celebrating men’s sporting achievements. Popular culture promoted sports competitions as an outlet for men’s aggression that also encouraged moral fortitude. Because women were supposed to be neither aggressive nor competitive, Coubertin and his fellow organizers intended that women’s Olympic participation be limited to spectator.

Coubertin quote


Women Enter Olympic Competition

While women missed the first games in 1896, they appeared in the second and third. The 1900 Olympic games were held concurrently with the Paris World’s Fair. While women were not specifically included, they were not explicitly excluded. Seven American women competed in tennis and golf. Margaret Abbott won the women’s golf contest, becoming the first American woman to win first place in an Olympic event.

The third Olympics was held in St. Louis in 1904, also during a World’s Fair. The United States provided the vast majority of athletes. Six American women—the only female athletes to attend—competed in archery, the only event open to women. Medals were first awarded in 1904, and Lida Scott Howell won three gold.


Making it Official

The London games in 1908 were the first to officially sanction women’s participation. National sports governing bodies and federations sanction athletic competitions and select Olympic national teams. While the American Olympic Committee refused to send women athletes in 1908, European women competed in tennis, archery, and figure skating.

The International Swimming Federation (ISF) first sanctioned women’s competitive swimming events in 1910, opening the door to women’s participation at the 1912 Stockholm games. America’s female swimmers did not compete in Stockholm because their sports governing body, the American Athletic Union (AAU), did not sanction women’s competitive swimming until 1914. No U.S. women competed at the 1912 games.

The 1916 games were cancelled during World War I making the 1920 games in Belgium the first to host American women since 1904. American women competed in swimming, diving, and figure skating. Aileen Riggin, the youngest athlete on the U.S. team at age 14, won a gold medal in diving. Ethelda Bleibtrey became the first American woman to win an Olympic swimming title.


Competitive Women Meet Resistance

Women’s athletics enjoyed immense popularity in the U.S. during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. By 1920, 22% of colleges and universities offered women’s athletic programs, and secondary school physical education was compulsory in nearly every state. A growing number of club teams and company-sponsored teams widened women’s sports opportunities.

As women’s competitive opportunities expanded, women athletes met an unanticipated source of resistance. In 1922 the National Women’s Track Athletic Association petitioned the AAU to sanction women’s events. The AAU voted to become the governing body for women’s track and field; however, the women who ran girls and women’s physical education programs in schools and colleges strongly protested.

Women physical education teachers, who predominantly taught girls and women, deeply objected to women’s competitive sports. Their philosophy of women’s athletics emphasized physical fitness and mass participation. Competition, they argued, was counterproductive. It funneled resources to a small number of elite athletes at the expense of scores of girls and women who would reap health benefits from participation. Moreover, competition made games less fun, discouraging girls. Starting in the 1930s, women’s competitive sports were gradually all but eliminated at the collegiate level to be replaced with game days and exercise classes.


Falling Behind in the Medal Count

The dearth of women’s collegiate athletic programs narrowed the U.S. Olympic team’s pool of potential athletes even as the IOC increased the number of women’s sports. Women turned to club and company-sponsored teams as outlets. However, the lack of access to skilled coaching and higher level training adversely affected women’s results in international competitions, including the Olympics.

TSU sidebar

Sports governing bodies grew increasingly concerned through the 1950s, 60s, and 70s over U.S. women’s weak showing against Eastern bloc countries. The Olympics had become a Cold War battlefield, and the East was winning. While Eastern bloc countries doped athletes to improve conditioning, they also created state-run training programs designed to produce winners. U.S. women, lacking an organized system of training and support, were simply out-matched in many events.


Title IX Evens the Playing Field

The year 1972 marked a turning point in women’s athletics. Title IX mandated that girls have equal opportunity as boys for sports participation. It immediately expanded the number of competitive slots for girls and women, facilitating their development into elite athletes. Before Title IX, fewer than 30,000 women were collegiate athletes, rising to 190,000 in 2012. Many of them, like star soccer forward Abby Wambach (University of Florida) and swimmer Natalie Coughlin (University of California, Berkeley), distinguished themselves and their alma maters in international competition.

Female Olympic athletes continue to make strides. The 2012 U.S. team in London was the first to include more women than men. U.S. women brought home 58 medals, to the men’s 45. Getting in the game is the first step to winning.

US Summer Graph with Boarder


Interested in learning more? Visit the Olympic Timeline.


Elizabeth L. Maurer
Director of Program


Recommended Readings

  • Barra, Allen. “Before and After Title IX: Women in Sports.” Accessed August 4, 2016.
  • Fuller, Linda K. (1987). Olympics access for women: athletes, organizers and sport journalists. In, Jackson, R. and T. McPhail, (Eds.), The Olympic movement and the mass media: past, present and future issues, Calgary: Hurford Enterprises, 4/9 – 4/18
  • “Olympic Games |” Accessed August 5, 2016.
  • Smith, Lissa. Nike Is a Goddess: The History of Women in Sports. Atlantic Monthly Press, 1999.
  • Waldron, Travis. “Title IX And The Success Of Women At The Olympics.” ThinkProgress, August 10, 2012.
  • Woolum, Janet. Outstanding Women Athletes: Who They Are and How They Influenced Sports in America. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1998.

Background & Fight for Title IX

August 4th, 2016

A Heritage of Mixed Messages: Women’s Sports History

August 4th, 2016

By Bonnie Morris, Ph.D.

Reprinted from A Different Point of View Winter 2012

Nineteenth century America idealized white woman’s modesty, frowning on sports as a threat to elite females’ fertility. This double standard persisted long after slavery was abolished: elite women did not exert themselves; their [female] servants did. Yet there were few sporting outlets for poor women who had athletic gifts and aspirations. Instead, the elite women’s colleges and the country clubs associated with the wealth and leisure of the Gilded Age made certain sports acceptable for aristocratic ladies: tennis, croquet, archery, and bathing-beauty swimming at racially restricted lakes or beaches.

In Coming on Strong, historian Susan Cahn notes that these endeavors were also more socially acceptable because they required elaborate outfits, stamping an assurance of femininity onto competitors in costume. Healthful beauty, not aggression or the personal/political desire to triumph over competitors, remained the watchword for active women–with the interesting exception of field hockey, an often bruising sport legitimized as girlish because of its association with boarding schools for daughters of the elite.

Morris_Bonnie_Tennis Players_first photo

The Scientific Reason

Medical authorities dating back to Aristotle declared that women were basically ruled by their reproductive systems, with a limited amount of “energy” flowing through the body that monthly hormonal expenditure used up in dangerous quantities to begin with. Too much study or, heaven forbid, bicycle riding and other unladylike sports would render nice women infertile; nineteenth-century campaigns against higher education for women sounded very much like campaigns to prevent women from taking part in active sports.

Anti-college campaigns also had clear racial and class overtones: women who graduated from the Seven Sisters colleges were indeed less likely to reproduce, but this had more to do with the lure of professional service careers [such as teaching and nursing] which required women to remain unmarried. Still, the popular connection between higher education and spinsterhood led to notions that learning, like sport, “desexed” women; even President Theodore Roosevelt [not incidentally an advocate of sports and warfare-based manliness] believed that America’s oldest white families were conspiring to commit “race suicide” by sending their next generation of daughters to college.

As nineteenth-century America honed white masculinity through warfare and capitalism, baseball and basketball, it also restricted women’s competition in public spheres of sports and politics by retaining inconsistent ideals about females’ innate ability to endure pain, injury, and manual labor. In textile mills and factories, women and children worked unregulated hours in life-threatening conditions; the sacred role of “mother” was violated every time a female slave suffered the sale of her children for someone else’s profit; in 1885 the “age of consent” for a girl child to be pushed into sexual union with an adult male was ten years old in 36 states, and seven years old in Delaware.[1] It was legally permissible for any man to beat his wife and kids. Clearly, socially sanctioned ideals of protecting women and children from harm have always had some gaps.


Tough Women

Most women had to be tough to survive–to survive as mothers, child brides, farm wives, sharecroppers, factory girls, millhands, pioneers. But where physical endurance was a highly sought-after quality in farmwives, strength on the home front was separate from an athletic identity. No one denied the muscular effort involved in carrying a child and giving birth; it was public athletic performance by women and girls that was condemned as immodest, selfish, and attention-seeking, the trinity of bad-girl behaviors. And athletic risks undertaken in prime childbearing years were seen as foolhardy.

Morris_Bonnie_ Virginia Smoot tagged out at third by Mabel Harvey during the ball game_second photo

Physical stress was common for rural homemakers who ran a household or family farm with few labor-saving devices or hired hands. Their daily workload rivaled the bricklaying or haybaling assigned to the strongest men; but rural and small-town wives rarely had their femininity impugned, as long as their “athletic” chores entailed proper domestic duties: scrubbing floors, wringing laundry, ironing, lifting children, tending animals, hauling water, gardening, canning, even splitting wood and dressing freshly slaughtered game. From this Midwestern demographic of bulging female arm muscles came the first female softball players and, ultimately, the All-American Girls Baseball League of World War II. Our collective national memory is slowly erasing images of those American women, black and white, who grew up farming or going out to work at age six. (My grandmother Mia could split an apple in two with her bare hands, a casual act of kitchen athletic power that delighted me as a kid.)


First Female Athletes

Who were the first female athletes embraced by Americans? What allowed them to break through restrictive cautions and conditions? When the modern Olympics were brought back in 1896, women were not allowed to compete until 1920 [with a special "Women's Olympics" convening in 1922 and well into the 1930s.]

Scholar Susan Cahn suggests that country club sports like tennis and swimming, with their leisure-class and feminine-fashion associations, allowed white heroines like Helen Wills and Gertrude Ederle to capitalize on the flapper era’s love affair with sophisticated outdoorswomen: “They helped fashion a new ideal of womanhood by modeling an athletic, energetic femininity with an undertone of explicit, joyful sexuality.”[2]

With American racism at extraordinary levels–despite the Harlem Renaissance, the 1920s saw the century’s highest levels of Ku Klux Klan membership, with ongoing lynchings–few if any tennis courts or park pools were open to black athletes, male or female. Thus as white swimmers brought home Olympic gold, and white tennis beauty queens made headlines, African-American “race girls” brought pride to their own communities by defeating white teams at track and basketball meets. This pattern of white celebrity athletes vs. grassroots local heroines heralded only by their own [minority] communities remained in place for decades, further obscuring how many women and girls were, in fact, committed to sports.


Morris_Bonnie_Wilma Rudolph_third photo

The association of sport with “rough” girls also continued through the Depression and the 1940s, due to industrial factory softball leagues and the segregated track world of black female athletes. But after the U.S. entry into World War II, gender codes changed to permit and reward muscular competence in war factories’ “Rosie the Riveter” workers (and WAC recruits.) Wartime America embraced an unlikely symbol of victory: the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

Though all-white, and requiring strict obedience to absurd standards of femininity in dress, curfews and hairstyles, the League is now praised as radical for its day. Penny Marshall’s 1992 blockbuster “A League of Their Own” and Janis Taylor’s less famous but more authentic documentary “When Diamonds Were A Girl’s Best Friend” make plain the League’s selling point, conceived by Chicago Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley–that his “girls” would play like men but look like ladies. The contrast, and the presentation of strong-armed women as a wartime emergency resource not unlike the Navy’s WAVES, made escapist entertainment profitable. Since the League continued until 1954–an eleven-year run–it would be inaccurate to say it ended soon after the men returned from war and women were urged out of factories and ballparks and back to the home. But that social shift certainly influenced the League’s postwar wane, along with other factors such as boys-only Little League, the advent of television, and Cold War dramatization of American femininity vs. Soviet women’s mannishness in the 1950s Olympics.

I regularly bring in my parents’ high school yearbooks from Fairfax and Los Angeles High of the mid-1950s; while my parents’ soon-to-be celebrity classmates Dustin Hoffman and Jack Kemp were lettering in track and football, respectively, girls had exactly two choices: join the Neptunettes [be like Esther Williams!] or the Bowlerinas [and meet boys at the malt shop later!]. Most importantly, the 1950s introduced television, which would soon broadcast ballgames, sports-themed commercials, and images of a race and gender-stratified America no patriot of the McCarthy era was supposed to question. Television made possible a national rejoicing in U.S. sports heroes once only glimpsed in movie shorts (or at actual games).

This rapid-fire social history of attitudes towards women’s domestic duties and reproductive health in the years before Title IX are a must for my students–many of whom had no idea that, for instance, ballparks and beaches–the very waves of America’s oceanfronts–were off-limits to black men and women, or that as late as 1967 Boston Marathon officials could declare all women physiologically incapable of running 26 miles. What I teach in my sports history class is how national history shapes physical standards for us all.

In such countless ways, America wasted its real athletic potential. And then, in 1972, buoyed by the successes of the civil rights and feminist movements and political mandates to end segregation, women stepped up to the plate. And Title IX became law.

I am delighted to offer this sample mini-lecture from my women’s sports history class, which I’ve taught every year at both Georgetown and George Washington University since 1996.


Dr. Morris has written 13 books on a variety of women’s history topics, more information about her and her work can be found here:

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[1] Mary Odem, Delinquent Daughters. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1995; pp. 13-16.

[2] Cahn, Coming on Strong, p. 47.