Michigan State University

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Claiming Their Bodies: Women’s Sportswear in the 1910s

At the dawn of the 20th century, suffragettes were fighting for women to receive the right to vote. This was achieved with the passage of the 19th Amendment on August 18, 1920. In addition to gaining the right to vote, women were increasingly participating in sporting activities including the Olympics, and at colleges and universities. This created a need for a casual wardrobe that allowed for more freedom of movement, but still fit with the appropriate modesty standards for the time period.

The Heritage Hall display features women’s sportswear ranging from 1910 – 1919 housed in the MSU Museum’s collection. It includes gym suits worn by Michigan State University students (then Michigan Agricultural College 1909 – 1925), an ankle length tennis dress, and early bathing suits, including an example of a required bathing cap and stockings.

By examining women’s sports clothing from the early 20th century, viewers can see how women were claiming their bodies for use in sports during the same period they were fighting for the right to vote.