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Women's Recreation Association (University of Iowa)



In 1900 the Department of Physical Culture and Athletics at the State University of Iowa (now the University of Iowa) had only one woman member, an assistant in charge of physical training for women. By 1924 the Department of Physical Education was established with four departments: intercollegiate athletics, physical education for men, physical education for women, and intramural games. By that year every member of the women's staff was a graduate of a physical education school and a major field of study in Women's Physical Education was established. The women's physical education program became a pioneer in the development of graduate study and professional training. Elizabeth Halsey headed the department from 1924-1955. Gladys Scott, who received the first PhD in women's physical education from the University of Iowa in 1937, succeeded Halsey as department chair.

The athletic/physical education departments were later reorganized in a variety of configurations including the Department of Physical Education and Dance (1976-1987), Physical Education and Sport Studies (housed within the Division of Physical Education) (1987-1993), the Department of Sport, Health, Leisure and Physical Studies (1993-2000), the Department of Health, Leisure and Sport Studies (2000-2001) and the Department of Health and Sport Studies in 2000. Physical education is no longer offered as a field of study.

The Women's Athletic Association (WAA), an intramural organization with both an athletic and social focus, was organized in 1911 to "promote a spirit of fair play and sportsmanship among girls." The WAA offered a variety of clubs, including Orchesis (dance), Seals (swimming), outing, hockey, canoeing, archery, badminton, tennis, basketball, and handicrafts. The group sponsored tournaments, play days, intramurals, sport club activities, classes in social dancing, and all-freshmen parties. In 1941, the name of the organization changed to the Women's Recreation Association (WRA).

The WAA/WRA provided college women opportunities to participate in sports, either intramural or as a member of a sport club, as there were no varsity sport teams available for women at The University of Iowa. Intercollegiate competition was not seen to be in the best interest of women, a sentiment held strongly by the women physical educators at Iowa and around the country, and generally supported by a male-centered and male-dominated sport culture. This philosophy held until the late 1960s, an important period of growth and transition for women's sports. Despite the department's public stance against interscholastic athletic competition for women, WRA members competed regularly in such sports as field hockey, golf, fencing and riflery, traveling to other schools and hosting tournaments at The University of Iowa.

Starting in the 1968-1969 season, many of the WRA sport clubs began participating in more formally recognized intercollegiate competition-a change which reflected a shift in the philosophy of the leaders in physical education for women toward athletic competition. In some cases, the WRA recreational club team and the intercollegiate team were distinct entities, but in most cases, the WRA team was the intercollegiate team. By the 1971-1972 season, certain sport teams were specifically identified as "intercollegiate," although they were still affiliated with the WRA. This transition can be observed in the sport club files from this period. Intramural and intercollegiate sport folders are marked as such whenever possible. For more information on the transition to and growth of intercollegiate athletics for women at the University of Iowa, refer to the Intramurals, Intercollegiate Athletics and Professional Organizations series in the Department of Physical Education for Women collection

Found in 1 Collection or Record:

University of Iowa Department of Physical Education for Women: Women's Recreation Association records

Identifier: IWA0691

WRA provided college women opportunities to participate in sports, either intramural or as a member of a sport club

Dates: 1920-1975