Breaking Through: How Female Athletes Shattered Stereotypes in the Roaring Twenties

Breaking Through: How Female Athletes Shattered Stereotypes in the Roaring Twenties
Author(s)
Age Range
10+
Release Date
February 04, 2020
ISBN
978-1426336768
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Award-winning author Sue Macy offers a fresh and timely account of women in sports in the 1920s, and how their determination, talent, and defiance in the face of criticism promoted women's rights, redefined femininity, and changed the course of history.

Macy offers a rare and fascinating glimpse into the journey of women's rights through the lens of women in sports during the pivotal decade of the 1920s. With elegant prose, poignant wit, and fascinating primary sources, Macy explores the many hurdles presented to female athletes as they stormed the field, stepped up to bat, and won the right to compete in sports. Featuring bold and talented heroines, this book documents how the social issues and morals of the decade--from politics to segregation to the media--helped shape the changing narratives around women and alter the course of history entirely. It is a fascinating window into a rich and seldom explored history, and also a topical reminder of the many discussions surrounding femininity and the role of women that continue today.

Editor review

1 review
Important Work on Women in Sports
Overall rating
 
5.0
Writing Style
 
5.0
Illustrations/Photos (if applicable)
 
5.0
One hundred years ago. When I was growing up, this seemed like an impossibly long time in the past. The Civil War had just ended! Everything about daily life was drastically different. And now... one hundred years ago, there were cars, refrigerators, knee length dresses, and women playing sports.

As in her Wheels of Change and Motor Girls, Macy presents an astonishing array of information about women in all manner of sports, as well as extremely helpful timelines about other history going on at the time. History textbooks often fail in showing cultural background for events, so I was glad to see two page spreads about events as varied as Prohibition, Lindbergh's Flight and the discovery of penicillin in between chapters, as well as an epilogue detailing important events up to the present time. For young people who struggle to place World War II in history, timelines are an important inclusion.

The array of photographs accompanying all of this information is amazing, and really helps with understanding items like the long skirts on the Vassar Resolutes' 1876 baseball uniforms or the swim suits on the 1924 women's Olympic swim team. I was especially drawn to the running shoes, which looked like they offered no support whatsoever. It must have been difficult to locate all of these, but they add tremendously to the text.
Good Points
The sheer amount of information about women's sports in the 1920s (and a bit before) is impressive. Swimming, baseball, basketball, ice skating, golf, track and field, rowing, aviation, tennis, hockey and even football (soccer) are covered, showcasing outstanding individuals but also giving background about the state of the endeavor for women in general. Of especial interest is the inclusion of the contributions of women of color, as well as the note that some ethnic populations were not found in news articles. Not only are events and individuals covered, but there is discussion on how the public saw women's sports. Young readers born after half court basketball was ended will be shocked to find that it was considered a given that women were "too delicate" for sports, and that female athletes would feel compelled to show they could dress and make themselves up according to feminine ideals at the time also excel at housewifery! My favorite line has got to be Paul Gallico's "If there is anything more dreadful aesthetically or more depressing than the fatigue-distorted face of a girl runner at the finish line, I have never seen it."

The epilogue, with a timeline about highlights in the evolution of women's sports, shows the advances and challenges in the last 100 years. Certainly, there is still progress to be made, and it is helpful to be inspired by women who fought against much greater odds to insure that women and girls would have an equal playing field and as much opportunity as possible. If you have readers who are very interested in this topic, hand them this book along with Jessie Graham Flower's 1911 Grace Harlowe's sophomore year at high school, or, The record of the girl chums in work and athletics. Grace's basketball team's experiences will seem all the more important after reading about the challenges girls faced a decade later!

Breaking Through is a must purchase for all school libraries, and will get equal use for research and for pleasure reading. In fact, since the National History Day theme this year is "Breaking Barriers", it is essential to obtain this title immediately. I'm going to make sure I have two copies, since Macy's works (including the 1996 Winning Ways) are always in demand, and I'm tempted to get a third to deconstruct and make into a bulletin board, which I often consider but never do!
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