The Century-Old Art of Negging Women in Sports

feature images via The Library of Congress

Journalists and sport commentators covering the 2016 Rio Olympics have gone out of their way to make sure the audience understands that sexism is alive and well. To a degree that feels unnecessary? It’s like, we get it, you have a deep-seated belief that women exist in contrast to the default of men and are bad at your job!

The deliberateness of it isn’t as trying as how casual it all seems. That’s muscle memory at work. Almost as if there’s a manual for this kind of thing! *peeks through a bunch of newspapers from 100 years ago* Oop, found it!

Gertrude Ederle – Swimmer

“Romping ‘Tom-Boy’ wins real place in sun as 15-year old girl is crowned water queen… Plays baseball like a pro, and knows value of a poker hand, and yet she is good at housework, too… Plenty of sleep and healthy exercise to keep her in trim are about all she concerns herself with. And to grasp her by the hand and receive a husky clasp, to run an eye over the broad shoulders and muscular arms and well developed body, it is apparent her rules are good ones.” – Evening Public Ledger, August 12, 1922

I hope someone was close by to run an eye over the man who was running an eye over the broad shoulders and muscular arms and well developed body of Gertrude Ederle!

Gertrude Ederle, Helen Wainwright, and Hilda James – Swimmers

“A trio of the world’s speediest mermaids snapped at the New Brunswick last Saturday during the 440-yard championship over a 110-yard course in the Raritan River.” – The New York Tribune, September 10, 1922

Mermaids are cool because they’re not even human!

May Sutton Bundy – Tennis Player

“By winning the women’s national tennis championship from Miss Bjurstedt in the Thanksgiving Day tournament at the Long Beach, Cal, Mrs. May Sutton Bundy proved to doubters that a married woman can compete and hold her own in athletics… Now Mrs. Bundy comes back into the game and takes over the championship once more, in spite of the fact that she is a mother and busy with the cares of a household.” – The Day Book, December 3, 1915

Married, a mother, and not completely worthless outside the home? Right on, May Sutton Bundy!

Helen Busby – Baseball Player

“Any fellow who likes baseball has a perfectly good chance to become a Ty Cobb; but what chance has a girl? Miss Helen Busby, of the Temple Girls’ baseball team, last season convinced Philadelphians that she really was the Ty Cobb of her sex.” – New York Tribune, March 18, 1917

Helen Busby really was the Katie Ledecky as the Michael Phelps as the Ty Cobb of her time.

May Kaarlus – Billiards Player

“May Kaarlus, fifteen and pretty, has issued rather a sweeping challenge to the winner of the professional billiard match recently played in New York.” – The Leon Reporter, January 2, 1902

“Willie Hoppe, the boy billiardist, has a feminine rival in May Kaarlus, ‘fifteen and pretty,’ who, through the The World, has challenged the winner of the Madison Square Garden tournament to a contest. Women are taking a particular interest in billiards which, though a fatiguing game for the sex, is one in which feminine accuracy of eye and delicacy of touch count for much. Incidentally it sets in relief the graceful lines of a pretty figure.” – The Evening World, December 5, 1901

“Miss May Kaarlus, the little sorceress of the cue, who has startled the whole billiard world by her performances on the green-clothed table… Though only a girl, not yet in the ‘sweet-sixteen’ stage of life, she has a command of the cue that defies comparison.” – The Evening World, January 28, 1901

Does anyone know if May Kaarlus was at one point 15 years old or if she was pretty? I can’t wait to start referring to men who excel in sports my “little sorcerers.” Also who knew the billiards’ table was a great way to show off your rockin’ bod!

Frances Heywood – Billiards Player

“Speaking of what he saw, Cutler said: ‘It was amazing. I never expected to see a woman play billiard as she did. She played 18.2 balkline in a manner that would have reflected credit upon a Class B amateur champion. Her attitude at the table was easy and graceful, and her stroke was as solid as that of any profession.'” – New York Tribune, March 28, 1915

You couldn’t even give her Class A amateur?

Clarice Davis – Weightlifter

“Clarice Davis, student at the University of California here, who claims the woman’s weight lifting championship of the west, has been pronounced by Prof. Walter McGee, physical director of the university, the only perfect specimen of womanhood that has ever come under his observation.” – The Day Book, October 5, 1914

Congratulations, Clarice Davis!!! Ugh so jealous.

Annette Kellerman – Underwater Ballerina

“The ‘movies’ have caught Annette Kellerman, the wonderful water nymph!” – The Day Book, January 17, 1914

The core strength, lung capacity, and agility is takes to DANCE UNDERWATER is just adorable!

Marie Marvingt – “Sportswoman”

“Miss Marie Marvingt is known in her native land of France as the first sportswoman of the world. She can swim, ride, shoot, climb, fish, and drive a motor car and she does each beautifully.” – The Hays Free Press, November 15, 1913

If it’s not done beautifully has it even been done at all?

Hazel Hotchkiss – Tennis Player

“Jauntily garbed in a white sweater, a white suit, white shoes, white gloves and without a hat, Miss Hazel Hotchkiss, women’s tennis champion, stepped in to the county clerk’s office in Oakland to purchase a marriage license with which to play out a ‘set’ in the game of matrimony in which she claims the score of ‘love’ will run high.” – The Day Book, February 28, 1912

Similarly, US men’s volleyball players’ roles at home ‘serve’ as the safety ‘net’ for their children.

Mary Browne – Tennis Player

“It was a labor of love with the men who taught and developed Mary Brown until she defeated Molla Bjurstedt. She was pliable and plastic, perfect clay for their molding hands. They developed her game on all sides, gave it many facets, made it a man’s game, which is full of devices and resources, not a woman’s game, which is usually one strong point, baseline like Miss Bjurstedt and sheer power and strength as was Miss Sutton’s.” – The Ogden Standard, October 20, 1917

“Make it a man’s game.” – me to my editors

Olga Dorfner and Evelyn Burnett – Swimmers

“Miss Burnett captured the classic Western marathon last summer, and lately has been training under the expert guidance of Tom Whitaker, coach at the Missouri Athletic Club. She is said to be making great times in practice, and some believe she will prove a dangerous rival to the speedy Quaker maid.” – New York Tribune, June 13, 1915

Now here we go. Calling an athlete a “speedy Quaker maid” is the kind of innovation I’m talking about!

Suzanne Lenglen – Tennis Player

“The sensational French star is to be seen on our courts this summer and with her remarkable skill, consummate grace, raven locks, and colorful headdress should prove a tremendous drawing card.” – New York Tribune, July 17, 1921

“Tall, lithe, and graceful, Mlle Lenglen moves with fawn-like ease and freedom. With deeply tanned skin, bobbed brown hair, vivacious eyes and ever-ready smile, she gives the impression of free, unfettered, joyous youth. She is a wisp of a girl whose only care is to live and to enjoy.” – Bisbee Daily Review, July 31, 1921

TFW you’re a 22-year-old multi-title champion who will go on to win 30 titles by age 25 but also a wisp of a girl whose only care is to live and enjoy.

Elenora Sears – Equestrienne/Polo Player/”Sportswoman”

“She rides with all the skill of a man and her strength of wrist and arm is almost incredible.” – The Washington Herald, May 26, 1912.

The “almost” there is a flick on the forehead.

Aileen Riggin – Diver

“But the real little champion of the entire galaxy of water performers is the 13-year-old Aileen Riggin. Even her name is poetical. Her weight is but the tiny sum of seventy-five pounds. Yet Aileen is wonderful. They call her ‘the little girl with the perfect form in the water.’ Her smile wins everyone and after watching her gracefully leap from the springboard, it is to thrill, for she is Aileen – the wonder and wonderful.” – The Washington Herald, August 6, 1920

What a beautiful, concise, definitely not made up on the spot nickname.

Theresa Blanchard – Figure Skater

“Boston Woman Captures Fancy Skating Honors” – The New York Herald, February 28, 1921

Congratulations to Michael Phelps on his “fancy swimming awards.”

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Los Angeles based writer. Let's keep it clean out there!

Erin has written 208 articles for us.


  1. This is all spot on except the “almost incredible” part for Elenora Sears. This was back when that word still had its original meaning – unbelievable – as in not credible or impossible. So he is saying that her strength is almost impossible to believe.

  2. “Fancy Skating” was the name of the event. The high dive used to be Fancy Diving as well. “Beautifully” as in “She does each beautifully” doesn’t mean girly and pretty in this context, it used to be more commonly used as a general term of praise than it is now (although it is still used that way all the time). What is wrong with “the Ty Cobb of her sex?” Would it be degrading to call a woman “the Michael Jordan of the WNBA?” Humans think in connections and similarities. Last night I was watching a documentary about world poverty and there was a man known worldwide as “the Bill Gates of Africa.” He’s a self-made billionaire who started out coding in his room. There is nothing wrong with communicating through these patterns of expression.

    • the fancy awards was just funny to me because the same article called her a figure skater. also, no, there’s nothing wrong with comparisons! it’s just so rare it happens in reverse. no male tennis player is called “the serena williams of his sex” or runner “the marion jones of his time” and is why i pointed out at the top of the article men are the default here

      • I definitely won’t argue that “Fancy Skating” is funny. For some reason almost anything that is officially “fancy” ends up being comical. Last night I was trying to convince my friend that rats are cute, showing her pictures and laughing at how the domesticated ones you buy as pets are called “Fancy Rats.” But I still just think it’s unfair to characterize some of these as sexist when several (not all) are literally saying, “hey everyone who thought a woman couldn’t do x as well as a man, you’re wrong!”

        • true! i just would love if women’s accomplishments could stand on their own without being compared to something. i do love your insights though shiraz!

      • (p.s. I LOLed at Michael Phelps and his “fancy swimming awards,” I was just pointing out that Fancy Skating was the actual event, most people probably don’t know that.)

  3. This is amazing!

    Out of curiosity the other day I was re-watching the 1996 gymnastics that made me obsessed with the Olympics as a little girl (Kerri Strugg era). WELL. Let me tell you. The commentary then was about 150 times worse than the (terrible) commentary now.

    Like, in the intro, they were playing the song “Tis the gift to be simple” the whole time, and they called the gymnasts “little girls” approximately 100 times in five minutes.

  4. “sorceress of the cue” made me laugh cause of a Northern Heathenry thing
    A vǫlva (think witch, wisewoman, seer) is said to be wand wed or a staff carrier

    The word comes from vǫlr which means staff and what is a billiards cue?
    A fucking staff.

  5. Fantastic job collecting all of these! And great commentary, too. “Sorceress of the cue” was my favorite turn of phrase out of this ridiculousness, also.

  6. Although looking good at a billiard table is not the prime benefit for serious athletes, I can’t deny that I did take multiple girls on first dates to the pool tables on my college campus. 1. Basically free 2. Plenty of chance to talk, but also something to do with yourselves and competition 3. I look awesome playing pool in a lowcut top, and often the other girl would too #badfeminist

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