Women's soccer - How the 1917 Dick, Kerr Ladies soccer team started by challenging the men.
Updated: Jan 29, 2022
The skill level of women's soccer has impressed the world as we watch the 2019 World Cup soccer players in awe. The U.S. faced England in the semi-finals and they gave us a great match. Whereas the growth of women's soccer in the U.S. has been credited to the passage of Title IX in 1972, the British Ladies Football Club (U.S. soccer) was created in 1894, with their most famous team being the “Dick, Kerr Ladies."
The Dick, Kerr Ladies came from the Preston weapons plant where women were hired because of the shortage of male workers during World War One. One day in 1917, as the women watched the men practice during a lunch break, they found themselves less than impressed with the skill level and challenged the men to play. The women enjoyed playing the game so much that they formed a team and it grew in membership and skill. They eventually played games to earn money to fund the wounded soldiers. Drawing thousands of fans, they raised money and encouraged other teams to form and compete against them. In 1920, they competed in front of a sold-out crowd of 53,000 fans with over 10,000 eagerly wanting to enter the stadium. The popularity of soccer with women was measurable. By 1921 there were 150 teams in the British Ladies Football Club that played in organized competitions.
While sports for boys was practically a rite of passage, for women in the early part of the 20th century, physical activity was only acceptable if the sport accentuated their grace and beauty, Sports such as ice skating, swimming, golf and tennis did not draw the public's ire but soccer and track and field did. Acceptable sports for women were not aggressive nor were they team sports. It was widely accepted, without scientific proof, that aggressive sports could hurt the womb and that would negatively affect a woman's primary role in being a mother. Moreover, unfeminine sports would make her muscle-bound, unattractive and unable to attract a husband. Women playing soccer was a direct challenge to the social fabric of society. Sadly, the team's success led to their demise. The British Football Association banned women from their stadiums for fear they were taking money from the men’s game. The ban held until the late 1960s.
(Internationally, Germany also banned women's soccer from 1955-1970 and Brazil banned women's soccer from 1941-1979. To read more on the history of women's soccer in Latin America we recommend reading Futbolera by Brenda Elsey and Joshua Nadal.)
Because they could no longer play in the United Kingdom, the Dick, Kerr ladies hopped on a boat and competed against several men’s teams in the United States; winning three games, tying three games, and losing three games.
Did they have trading cards?
Yes! We've seen two cards so far: 1922 Casket Cigarettes no. F238 and one by Barratt and Co. in 1925 (pictured below). It is ironic, but not surprising, that one of the most popular team sports today has the fewest number of cards pre-1972.