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Women's Field Hockey

In the 1908 Rabbit appears an oval photograph of the head of a young woman with beautifully coiffured hair, her eyes looking to the left, the photographer's light casting the right side of the face in shadow. Her mouth appears relaxed, with the slight hint of a smile.  Below the portrait are the words "Harriette Sessions Captain."  This is the page dedicated to the college's newly formed Hockey Club.  It should be no surprise that the club’s president is Mabel Lee.

It is not known how long women had been playing field hockey at Coe, but on October 5 in 1906, fifteen Coe women traveled to Ames and played a team from the state college in the first inter-collegiate hockey game ever played in Iowa.  Although the Coe team lost by a score of 4 to 2, the yearbook praises the team for its excellent "team work."

On June 1, 1907, the college team played its second inter-collegiate match with Cornell,  the first time women from these two colleges had ever competed in any sport.  Cornell easily won the match (6-0), but the 1909 Acorn assures its readers that Coe would do much better when Cornell comes to Coe for a return match. 

The enemy presented a few little tricks by which we will profit when they meet us on our own field.  Then, too, the field was so different from the home field that our girls could not easily accustom themselves to the change.

That fall, the Coe women staged a rematch with the team from Ames.  Again, the Coe team excelled in team work, keeping the ball in the enemy's territory through most of the match, but in the end Ames escaped with a 1-0 victory.

It was two years later that the field hockey team, now captained by Grace Noble, played its fourth game on November 5, 1909.  The game was played against Cornell on Coe's field and the final score was a 1-1 score.

One intriguing aspect of these four hockey matches is that they occurred during a long period when the college banned women from participating in intercollegiate sports.  Perhaps an exception was made because these contests were under the auspices of a student club (there's no record of the team having a faculty coach or sponsor), but there does not appear to have been any more hockey matches after the 1-0 loss to the team from Ames. If the yearbooks are to be trusted, Coe went over 60 years with no female Coe teams competing in intercollegiate athletics.  There were instances of individual students competing (for example some female swimmers competed independently), but only in the early 1970s did women begin to compete against women from other colleges.

Although intercollegiate competition was eliminated, the college did have a vigorous physical education program for female students–with activities that ranged from noncompetitive activities such as hiking to team sports such as basketball and field hockey.  In 1920, the "Teasing the Cat" column, written by the anonymous ScOoP, offered the Coe community this tribute to the college’s female hockey players:


Hold your peace, you football players,
You’ve no claim as death purveyors,
You’ve no claim as gladiators stern and cruel;
For the pastime of your choosing
Won’t compare in bumps and bruising
To the hockey played by ladies of the school.

When  opponents you would trample
Heavy pads you wear and ample
To protect you from the harshness of the fray;
Facing unwarmed opposition,
Down you crouch in your position
And you glare at rival fighters 'crost the way.

 Into battle goes the maiden
With her person all unladen
With protective pads defending her from harm;
And to add to the enjoyment
Of this truculent employment
Each contestant totes a club upon her arm.

 Thus equipped for death and mayhem
Where the rule is "maim and slay 'em",
Forth she sallies bearing murder in her soul;
And she waves a wicked timber,
Seeking whom she may dismember,
Counting corpse as more convincing than a goal.

 Let them have their sport primeval,
Filled with turmoil and up-heaval--
Let them say the college girl is weak and frail;
But beside this game emphatic,
Football’s calm and undramatic,
Using only nature’s weapons, tooth and nail.

                                                -Cosmos, 29 Oct 1920


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