Varsity launched a short-lived column devoted to women's sport in 1953

“Netball Victory” – January 29, 1949

It’s hardly a well kept secret that Cambridge hasn’t always been the most welcoming environment for women. The University, founded by Royal Charter in 1209, first admitted women 660 years later in 1869. 80 years after that comes the first evidence of a report on women’s sport of any kind in the Cambridge student press: a laconic number from January 1949, entitled ‘Netball victory’. Floating in a sea of articles on soccer, boxing, rowing and golf – all of which were the preserve of men, naturally – the report itself is just 19 words long: ‘Last Saturday’s netball match against University College Hospital Medical School, which the C.U. Netball Club, in black, won 21-7’. It has none of the gentlemanly Georgian verbiage enjoyed by the men’s teams, nor are any players named. Just a single sentence and a solitary photo to show for our first ever report on a women’s fixture.

“Some ladies waste passes” – October 28, 1950

Jumping ahead almost two years and you can tell attitudes haven’t really changed that much. In that academic year’s first women’s sport feature – headlined ‘Some ladies waste passes’ – reporter Ian MacDonald bemoaned the playing style of the Cambridge women’s lacrosse team, who had beaten St Christopher’s Letchworth by 11-7. A begrudging compliment to the ‘fairly accurate shots’ of the winning side was followed by a criticism of a team that ‘lacks cohesion’ and whose stick work ‘showed signs of neglect’. But members of the team need not fret, as ‘this fault may be remedied with practice,’ says MacDonald.

“Introducing Women’s Corner” – November 4, 1950

The Varsity sport team probably thought they were being progressive when one week later they introduced “The Women’s Corner”. Two short columns relegated to the far right hand side of a centre spread, quite apart from the more serious business of the manlier disciplines of football, shooting and ice hockey, were designated for the more lady-like pursuits of hockey and lacrosse. With the articles obviously unworthy of a place in the main section, word count is classically sparse, and the caption above the photo: ‘Out of my way, wench!’ didn’t help much either. The new feature didn’t last the year.

“The Ladies Play” – October 31, 1953

How enlightened of ‘Our very special correspondents’ to realise that women also play sport, in this piece from 1953 which reads more like a sudden revelation than anything else. ‘While no one would go so far as to assert that a greater proportion of women at the University show interest in outdoor games than that of men,’ it reassures its by now bewildered reader, ’those women’s clubs that are active this term have such achievements to report that Varsity can no longer afford to ignore them.” Awfully nice of them. True to form, the only women’s clubs worthy of comment were those playing hockey and netball. Any chance of a weekly feature fizzled out after just three weeks.

“Fur for the Cox” – April 25, 1964

The Cambridge and Oxford Women’s Boat Clubs have contested a Varsity Boat Race of some form since 1927. But 1964 marked the inaugural annual Women’s Boat Race, which took place on the Cherwell on March 14th. The historic event is given just three paragraphs, one highlighting Cambridge cox Ruth Kidd’s sartorial selections as she led her crew across the line dressed in a parka. ‘The women’s boat race’ – not even granted the honour of capitalisation – was swallowed up by coverage of ‘The Boat Race’ on the previous page, extolling the virtues of Cambridge’s Christopher Davey who led his crew to a 6 ½ length victory.

“CULNT OK!” – February 5, 1977

Jumping forward over a decade to Varsity’s brief stint as Stop Press, and while women’s sport is beginning to get more column spaces, it still finds itself more a point of curiosity than anything else. Reporter Joe Sinyor intrepidly dips his toe into the bewildering world of women’s netball – ‘the second of our occasional series of less well known sports played in the University’ – and finds, to his amazement, much to enjoy. ‘To educate the uninitiated,’ he says, “netball is, or so one is led to believe, a game for young ladies, played in teams of seven.’ Not the most auspicious start. ‘Most of the onlookers consist of players’ boyfriends, not all of whom attend voluntarily. This is a pity, especially because displays of bad temper and histrionics so common in many other sports have no place on the netball pitch.’

“Women denied full blues” – 23 February, 1996

It’s the 90s, and though the press are beginning to move with the times, as ever the University is not. Sport reporter Tanya Sheridan is seen here holding the women’s Blues committee to account for denying CUWAFC full Blues just a day after awarding them the honour. Ultimately a so called “procedural error” on the half of the voting committee invalidated CUWAFC’s hopes of an accolade that had been the privilege of the men’s side as far back as 1884. The story caught the attention of the national press, being covered on Radio 5 and in The Times. Cambridge’s women footballers now enjoy full Blue status and this season were one of Cambridge’s biggest sporting success stories, spending an entire league season unbeaten in a tremendous promotion campaign

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