PhD Thesis: ‘Invaded by Daughters of Eve’: Women Playing American Football, 1890-1960

Activity: Examination


This thesis examines the history of women playing American football in the United States in the period 1890-1960, a sport that from its very beginning was a means for men to demonstrate their manliness and masculinity. The thesis is primarily a media study which uses an extensive range of newspaper reports to build a picture of the many ways in which women accessed the sport and the response that the media had to their involvement. Archival research complements this media response and provides additional examples, especially on the educational uses of American football.
The thesis challenges the narrative that women participated in the sport only as spectators and cheerleaders. Women’s involvement has been wide-ranging, both geographically and in the ways in which they played the game. The work contends that medical experts, educators, and others’ views on gender and femininity shaped women’s participation, yet women frequently contravened social norms to participate in this hyper-masculine sport. Despite these women seemingly ‘invading’ the masculine space of football, the media primarily responded positively and frequently praised these young women.
The work’s thematic approach analyses the many ways in which women played the sport and considers the following themes: playing for fun; playing alongside and against male players; women’s football in educational settings; participation in professional leagues; and playing for charitable purposes. Unlike many women’s sporting histories, this thesis does not focus solely on competitive sport. It also considers participation for fun as well as part of physical education programmes, creating a rounded picture of women’s involvement in the sport across seventy years.
PeriodApr 2021
Examination held at
  • De Montfort University
Degree of RecognitionInternational


  • Sport History
  • Women's Sport
  • Research Methods