Rugby's League of extraordinary women
Although it’s often seen as a ‘man’s game’, women have been involved in Rugby League since it began. As early as 1909, women were of great financial support as they formed ladies’ committees to raise crucial funds for struggling clubs.
On the field, women were playing the game in Featherstone in 1921 in support of striking miners, and again in Cumbria in 1953 at the time of the Queen’s coronation.
This hidden history of women in the game is being uncovered by Victoria Dawson, who is writing a comprehensive study of women’s involvement in Rugby League.
It is a unique doctoral project being undertaken at the International Centre for Sports History and Culture at De Montfort University and funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council in conjunction with the Rugby Football League, it is being supervised by Rugby League historian Professor Tony Collins.
“This project will redress the gap in the knowledge, looking at how rugby league engages with, challenges, or reinforces women’s traditional roles in working-class communities,” said Victoria.
“I’m exploring the different, often unacknowledged roles women have played within the sport, as administrators, medics, players, referees, supporters, familial support, and journalists or broadcasters, to name a few.”
Many hours spent in the archives has so far uncovered some exciting new evidence. Victoria has also interviewed a variety of women, all of whom have a unique story to tell.
“One of my favourites came from 92 year old Emily Willis, a dedicated season pass holder at Hull FC who has been watching the game since 1931. She remembers the furore caused by her older sister Miriam, who once ran on to the Boulevard pitch and hit the referee over the head with her brolly for making a decision she disagreed with!”
Victoria would like to speak to more women and record their stories. If you would like to speak to her or know someone who may want to, she can be contacted at VictoriaDawsonRL@hotmail.co.uk or on Twitter: @VDawsonRL