All across the country, fall means sports. Football, soccer, volleyball . . . you name it, we’ve got it! More kids than ever are participating in sports of one kind or another. I thought it would be fun to compare the (fictional) experience of a high school athlete of nearly a century ago with today’s players. What do you notice that’s the same now as it was then? What’s different?
(Edited to add: Some people talk as if girls’ sports programs started with Title IX, and no girl ever sweated in public before 1972. Here’s a bit of counter-evidence.)
This exciting excerpt is from Marjorie Dean: High School Freshman by Pauline Lester, written in 1917. The story picks up just after our heroine, Marjorie Dean, has succeeded at her basketball tryout and won a place on the Sanford High School freshman team.
“‘Hurrah for the new team!’ cried Muriel Harding. ‘Let’s call ourselves the Invincibles. You certainly can play basketball, Miss Dean. How lucky in you to come to Sanford just when we need you. By the way, ‘Miss Dean’ is too formal. Please let us call you Marjorie. You can call us by our first names. What’s the use of so much formality among teammates?'”
(Unfortunately, Marjorie gets into squabble with some teammates who play a mean joke played on another girl–prompting Marjorie to quit the team. This means she doesn’t get to play in the big Freshman-Sophomore game, but she goes to watch it anyway. Her nemesis and the chief “mean girl,” Mignon LaSalle, is on the team.)
“By half past one Saturday every seat in the large gallery surrounding the gymnasium was filled, and by a quarter to two every square foot of standing room was occupied by an enthusiastic audience largely composed of boys and girls from the high school.
‘I never went to a basketball game before,’ confessed (Marjorie’s friend) Constance after a time. ‘What are those girls over there in the red paper hats and big red bows going to do?’
‘Oh, that’s the sophomore class. They lead their class in the songs. The green and purple girls are the freshman chorus.’
‘I didn’t even know our class colors were green and purple.’
‘You didn’t! Why, that’s the reason you and I wore violets. Almost every freshman has them.’
‘Oh, look!’ Constance’s eyes were fixed upon a tiny purple figure that had just emerged from a side door in the gymnasium and was walking slowly across the big floor. Immediately afterward a door opened on the opposite side and a diminutive scarlet-clad boy flashed forth.
‘They are the mascots,’ explained Marjorie. The two children advanced to the center of the room and gravely shook hands. Then the boy in red announced in a high, clear treble: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, the noble sophomores!’
The door swung wide and a band of lithe blue figures, bearing a huge letter “S” done in scarlet on the fronts of their blouses, pattered into the gymnasium amid loud applause.
‘The valiant freshmen!’ piped the purple-clad youngster.
There was a rush of black-clad girls, with resplendent violet ‘F’s’ ornamenting their breasts, another volley of cheers from the audience, then a shrill blast from the referee’s whistle rent the air. The teams dropped into their places, the umpire, timekeeper and scorer took their stations, and a tense silence settled over the audience.
The referee balanced the ball. Ellen Seymour and Mignon LaSalle gathered themselves for the toss. Up it went. The two players leaped for it. The referee’s whistle sounded again. The struggle for basketball honors began.
A jubilant shout swelled from the throats of the watching freshmen and their fans. Mignon had caught the ball. She sent it speeding toward Helen Thornton, who fumbled it and, losing her head, threw it away from instead of to the basket. An audible sigh of disapproval came from the freshman contingent as they beheld the ball pass into the hands of the sophomores, who scored shortly afterward.
Now that the ball was in their hands, the sophomores had the advantage and they kept it. Try as the freshmen might, they could not score. Toward the close of the first half they managed to score, but all too soon the whistle blew, with the score 9 to 2 in favor of the sophomores.
Their fans went wild with delight and their chorus sang,
‘Hail to the sophomores, gallant band!
See how bold they take their stand!”
The freshmen answered with their song, ‘The Freshmen’s Brave Banner,’ but they did not sing as spiritedly as they had before the beginning of the game.
The teams changed sides and hastened to their places. Again Mignon and Ellen faced each other. Then the whistle shrilled and the second half of the game was on.
From the beginning of the second half it looked as though the freshmen might retrieve their early losses. They worked with might and main and made no false moves. Slowly their score climbed to six. So far the sophomores had gained nothing. Then Ellen Seymour made a spectacular throw to the basket and brought her team up two points. With the realization that they were facing defeat, the freshmen rallied and made a desperate effort to hold their own, bringing their count up to eight.
Two more points were gained, and the score was tied, but the time was growing short. Helen Thornton had the ball and was plainly trying to elude the tantalizing sophomore who barred her way. She made a clumsy feint of throwing the ball. It slipped from her fingers and rolled along the floor. There was a mad scramble for it. Mignon and Ellen leaped forward simultaneously.
The crowd in the gallery was aroused to the height of excitement. Marjorie, breathless, leaned far over the gallery rail. She knew every detail of the dear old game. She saw Mignon’s and Ellen’s heads close together as they sprang; then she saw Mignon give a sly, vicious side lunge which threw Ellen almost off her feet. In the instant it took Ellen to recover herself, Mignon had seized the ball and was off with it. Eluding her pursuers, she balanced herself on her toes and threw her prize toward the freshman basket. But it never reached there. A long blue figure shot straight up into the air. Elizabeth Corey, a girl whose sensational plays had made her a lion during freshman year, had intercepted the flying ball. She sent it spinning through the air toward the sophomore nearest their basket, whose willing hands received it and threw it home.
Mignon’s trickery had availed her little. The sophomores had won.”
(from Marjorie Dean: High School Freshman by Pauline Lester, 1917)
I have stumbled upon the most amazing treasure–a book written in 1917 called Woman as Decoration by Emily Burbank, a visual artist’s point of view about how to complement one’s surroundings by what one puts on one’s body–what to wear while sitting in your sun-room, say, or walking in your garden, or ice skating, to form a pretty picture for anyone who happens to be looking. I’ve never read anything quite like it, and I must confess, I’m having a hard time putting it down. I’m dying to share more tidbits from this book with you, and I will, but in the interest of time I will begin with this brief but delightful description of what to wear while motoring, to expand on my earlier post about the well-dressed motorist. Just something to keep in mind as you zip around town in your mini-van or Range Rover this weekend!
WOMAN DECORATIVE IN HER MOTOR CAR
IT is not easy to be decorative in your automobile now that the manufacturers are going in for gay colour schemes both in upholstery and outside painting. A putty-coloured touring car lined with red leather is very stunning in itself, but the woman who would look well when sitting in it does not carelessly don any bright motor coat at hand. She knows very well that to show up to advantage against red, and be in harmony with the putty-colour paint, her tweed coat should blend with the car, also her furs. Black is smart with everything, but fancy how impossible mustard, cerise and some shades of green would look against that scarlet leather!
An orange car with black top, mud-guards and upholstery calls for a costume of white, black, brown, tawny grey, or, if one would be a poster, royal blue.
Some twenty-five years ago the writer watched the first automobile in her experience driven down the Champs Elysées. It seemed an uncanny, horseless carriage, built to carry four people and making a good deal of fuss about it.
A few days later, while lunching at the Café de Reservoir, Versailles, we were told that some men were starting back to Paris by automobile, and if we went to a window giving on to the court, we might see the astonishing vehicle make its start. It was as thrilling as the first near view of an aëroplane, and all-excitement we watched the two Frenchmen getting ready for the drive. Their elaborate preparation to face the current of air to be encountered en route was not unlike the preparation to-day for flying. It was Spring—June, at that—but those Frenchmen wearing very English tweeds and smoking English pipes, each drew on extra cloth trousers and coats and over these a complete outfit of leather! We saw them get into the things in the public courtyard, arrange huge goggles, draw down cloth caps, and set out at a speed of about fifteen miles an hour!
The above seems incredible, now that we have passed through the various stages of motor car improvements and motor clothes creations. The rapid development of the automobile, with its windshields, limousine tops, shock absorbers, perfected engines and springs, has brought us to the point where no more preparation is needed for a thousand-mile run across country with an average speed of thirty miles an hour, than if we were boarding a train. One dresses for a motor as one would for driving in a carriage and those dun-colored, lineless monstrosities invented for motor use have vanished from view. More than this, woman to-day considers her decorative value against the electric blue velvet or lovely chintz lining of her limousine, exactly as she does when planning clothes for her salon. And why not? The manufacturers of cars are taking seriously their interior decoration as well as outside painting; and many women interior decorators specialise along this line and devote their time to inventing colour schemes calculated to reflect the personality of the owner of the car.
Special orders have raised the standard of the entire industry, so that at the recent New York automobile show, many effects in cars were offered to the public. Besides the putty-coloured roadster lined with scarlet, black lined with russet yellow, orange lined with black; there were limousines painted a delicate custard colour, with top and rim of wheels, chassis and lamps of the same Nattier Blue as the velvet lining, cushions and curtains. A beautiful and luxurious background and how easy to be decorative against it to one who knows how!
Another popular colour scheme was a mauve body with top of canopy and rims of wheels white, the entire lining of mauve, like the body. Imagine your woman with a decorative instinct in this car. So obvious an opportunity would never escape her, and one can see the vision on a Summer day, as she appears in simple white, softest blue or pale pink, or better still, treating herself as a quaint nosegay of blush roses, forget-me-nots, lilies and mignonette, with her chiffons and silks or sheerest of lawns.
“But how about me?” one hears from the girl of the open car—a racer perhaps, which she drives herself. You are easiest of all, we assure you; to begin with, your car being a racer, is painted and lined with durable dark colours—battleship grey, dust colour, or some shade which does not show dirt and wear. The consequence is, you will be decorative in any of the smart coats, close hats and scarfs in brilliant and lovely hues,—silk or wool.