Spring/printemps 2003

Women’s Agency and the Development of Women’s Intercollegiate Athletics, 1961-2001

Patrick J. Harrigan
Professor, Chair of History, University of Waterloo
Published May 1, 2003
How to Cite
Harrigan, Patrick J. 2003. “Women’s Agency and the Development of Women’s Intercollegiate Athletics, 1961-2001”. Historical Studies in Education / Revue d’histoire De l’éducation 15 (1), 37-76. https://doi.org/10.32316/hse/rhe.v15i1.474.


Autonomous women’s athletics had a strong foundation, especially in central Canada, from the 1920s. The expansion of women’s programs from the 1960s on was due primarily to the agency of university women athletes overcoming institutional and cultural indifference. A national intercollegiate organization for women was established in 1969 to encourage women’s sports and merged with the men’s organization in 1978. The immediate result of the union was a decline in women’s autonomy and representation, but women students’ athletic participation rates steadily increased. Women's representation within the CIAU (now CIS) rose dramatically in the 1990s with pressures for gender equality. Raising the profile of women’s sports, however, has had the unintended consequence of subsuming autonomy and the sense of a distinctive mission within a male model of elite competition and commercialization.