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

Identifier: IWA0691

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Scope and Contents

The Women's Recreation Association (WRA) records date from 1920-1975 and measure 8.5 linear feet. These records consist primarily of newspaper clippings, annual files and sport club files, which document and describe the organization's wide variety of social, athletic, and administrative activities. The annual files include membership lists, handbooks, minutes, schedules and Play Day programs. The WRA records also include a large selection of Sport Guides, rules and regulations designed specifically for women's sports. The records are arranged in the following series: Administrative records, Annual files, Financial records, Handbooks from other schools, Newspaper clippings, Social activities, Sport clubs, Sport Guides, and Artifacts.

The Administrative records series (1923-1971) includes the WAA and WRA constitutions, membership lists, reports, schedules, Board of Director's duties, publicity, and other miscellaneous administrative records.

The Annual files series (1943-1973) provides documentation of the activities, officers, committee work and events offered each year. Sport and recreation activities are filed under the name of the sport club.

Included in the Financial records series (1942-1972) are budgets and receipts for the first women's intercollegiate athletic teams in the late 1960s. Account books and invoices complete this series.

The Handbooks from other schools series (1939-1971) is comprised of WAA and WRA handbooks from other colleges and universities around the country, primarily from the mid-1940s to the 1960s. Included, is one handbook from 1939 that details how to organize a girl's athletic association and how to become a member of the Iowa State High School Girls Athletic Association.

The Newspaper clippings series (1920-1954, 1968-1969) offers a record of the many activities and events sponsored by the WRA.

The Social activities series (1945-1960) consists of a select group of special events: University Carnival, Open House, Old Gold Days, Play Days and Sports Days. Most social activities are documented in the annual files.

The Sport clubs series (1933-1973) ranges from Archery to Volleyball and everything in between, including Crafts, Roller Skating and Tumbling. This series contains sport club records, which document the wide variety of sport and recreation activities available to university students. Club activities, intramurals and extramurals (intercollegiate competition) are all represented.

The Sport Guides series (1926-1975) consists primarily of sport guides from the "Official Sports Library for Girls and Women" published for the National Section for Girls' and Women's Sports (NSGWS). These books include rules, standards, training, coaching and officiating techniques designed specifically for females. The series is divided by sport and does contain a few guides that are not gender-specific.

The Artifacts series (1931-1969) consists of Women's Rifle Team patches a medal, a State Sportsday award, and a fencing membership pin.


  • Creation: 1920-1975


Conditions Governing Access

The records are open for research.

Conditions Governing Use

Copyright to many of the records is held by The University of Iowa.

However, copyright status for some collection materials may be unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owner. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility and potential liability based on copyright infringement for any use rests exclusively and solely with the user. Users must properly acknowledge the Iowa Women’s Archives, The University of Iowa Libraries, as the source of the material. For further information, visit

Biographical / Historical

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.


8.50 Linear Feet

Language of Materials



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

Method of Acquisition

The records (donor no. 257) were transferred by the University of Iowa Department of Sport, Health, Leisure and Physical Studies in 1995.

Related Materials

University of Iowa Department of Physical Education for Women records (IWA). C. Pauline Spencer papers (IWA): Spencer was a 1923 graduate of the University's Department of Physical Education for Women and a standout athlete in many sports.

N. Peggy Burke papers (IWA): Burke was a faculty member in the University of Iowa Department of Physical Education for Women.

Christine Grant papers (IWA): Grant was the University of Iowa's Women's Intercollegiate Athletics Director and a faculty member in the University of Iowa Department of Physical Education for Women.

Shelley Lucas, 2000.
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Repository Details

Part of the Iowa Women's Archives Repository

100 Main Library
University of Iowa Libraries
Iowa City IA 52242 IaU
319-335-5900 (Fax)