The Women’s Athletic Association (W. A. A) was created at Iowa State College in the fall of 1905. Consisting of three clubs, basketball, tennis, and hockey, the W. A. A. provided the first organized platform for female athletic activity. A council composed of four faculty, the dean of women, and the student officers of the W. A. A. oversaw this athletic activity. Miss Winifred Tilden, the president and physical director, provided guidance to the council and promoted the participation of female students in athletic events. According to the yearbook, “to her credit of the growing interest in this department of athletics must be given. The interest in basket ball revived to such an extent that several important games were played.” These games included a defeat of Simpson College at Indianola on February 22, 1907 by a score of sixteen to thirteen.
Field Hockey, 1906
In addition to basketball, English Field Hockey was a popular sport among female students at the turn of the century. Introduced to the United States in 1901, Iowa State students took up the sport with particular interest. On October 15, 1906, the Iowa State women’s hockey team defeated Coe College by a score of four to two to win the first intercollegiate hockey game ever played in Iowa. Noted the yearbook, “Ames is known far and wide for her progressiveness along various lines of experiment and research. No less is her progressive tendency in the sports of the age.”
By the fall of 1915, seven women of the W. A. A. organized a Woman’s “A” Fraternity at Iowa State. Wearing an Athletic “A” on their sweaters, the “A” was granted by the Athletic Association of Iowa State College. The first president, Eva Wilson, was elected on December 9, 1915. The group elected Edna Fry and Tilden as honorary members. By 1934, the letter “A” changed to “I.”
Women's Archery, 1929
Participation in the W. A. A. increased dramatically during the 1920s and 1930s because athletics was the only activity in which freshman girls could participate during the fall quarter and because Tilden increased the variety of sports available, including hockey, tennis, deck tennis, archery, horseshoe pitching, baseball, basketball, track, soccer, and swimming. An honorary swimming organization, the Naiads, was founded in 1922.
Athletes received points based on the degree of participation in the W. A. A.; if a woman made a team, she received one hundred points and was entitled to belong to the W. A. A. If a woman made a squad, she earned twenty-five points. One thousand points awarded the athlete the official “A” in cardinal and gold worn on the left side of a big, white, collegiate sweater and membership into the Woman’s “A” Fraternity. According to the Bomb yearbook, freshmen could only receive a total of four hundred points for the year to “enable a girl to go out of other activities and be prominent in other things rather than being the strictly athletic girl; big, husky and rawboned!”
In 1923, Tilden retired, but the number of sports offered by the W. A. A. increased even more. In addition to the established sports of basketball, baseball, and tennis, by 1940 participants could play kittenball, ping pong, darts, volleyball, table tennis, tether ball, croquet, and shuffleboard. The W. A. A. even offered a Sports Officials Club and relied on club members to officiate intramural games. The outcome of those intramural games, especially games that pitted freshman against seniors, was highly anticipated. The motto of the W. A. A., however, encouraged athletes to “play the game for the game’s sake.”
Women's Riflery Class, 1958
By the 1950s and 1960s, the W. A. A. further promoted the idea of sportsmanship and fair play. It’s purpose was to develop an interest in physical activities, stimulate sportsmanship, improve game skills, and instill recreation enjoyment in its participants. Any college woman could participate in any associated club and any intramural tournament. The Department of Physical Education for Women assisted in the regulation of all athletic activities, and a range of clubs were offered. Archery Club, Bowling Club, Camp Counselors Club, Hockey Club, Modern Dance Club, Naiads Club, Officials Club, Pool Club, Naiettes Club (the junior club to the Naiads), and Racquets Club offered year-round participation for ISU women. Seasonal intramurals included volleyball and tennis in the fall, badminton and basketball in the winter, and bowling, golf, softball, and swimming in the spring.
Women's Fencing Class, ca. 1960s
Women's Tennis Class, 1960
Women's Dance Class, 1962
The W. A. A. continued to serve female athletes at Iowa State until the 1970s, when women’s athletic teams emerged on campus with the passage of Title IX in 1972.
Women's Snorkeling Class, 1974