Warhawk Almanac: The Women’s Athletic Association

WAA Captains Ball Team
Women’s Athletic Association Captains Ball Team, 1923, Minnieska, 1923.

The University of Wisconsin-Whitewater has achieved a high status of athletic success in men’s and women’s sports. The women’s athletic teams have won 8 National Championships in golf, volleyball, and gymnastics since 1985. [1] However, the foundation of women’s athletics at UW-Whitewater was established well before the idea of a national championship seemed feasible.

WAA Baseball Team
Women’s Athletic Association Baseball Team, 1926, Minnieska, 1926.

In 1896, women from the State Normal School in Whitewater established the Ladies Athletic Association to “further the interests of athletics.” they established a formal association and constitution. The association declared any faculty member, students from the Normal School, Preparatory Department, or Grammar Department in the body. The association would vote on newly inducted members. The association acknowledged any inductee achieving 2/3 as an official member. [2] In the constitution, the association notes that they would control the activities available to the young ladies, including field day, exercises, basketball, battle ball, bicycling, walking club, tennis, etc. The Ladies’ Athletic Association hosted a reception for faculty and the gentlemen’s Athletic Association to commemorate the new association. “If the ladies are as successful in their athletics as they have proved themselves to be at entertaining, we bespeak for them a successful career.”

WAA Sweater Women
WAA members and information on the process of achieving sweaters. Minnieska, 1930

In 1899, the group had enough interest to fill two basketball teams and focus their efforts on “wheel club,” a club for bicycling and tennis. The group would remain active for a few years but eventually dissipated due to lack of interest. In 1902, the Tennis Club reactivated part of the organization. It worked hard to establish a space for its 45 active women to get a little exercise and some fresh air. [3] In 1913, Minnieska wrote that the association granted the first official Ws to 24 members. Members were congratulated with Ws when they achieved a high standing of sportsmanship and athletic success. Eventually, the organization would offer the achievement of pins, Ws, and sweaters, depending on the number of points gathered by an athlete. [4] Achievement of the W occurred when an athlete met association standards in loyalty, playing spirit, team spirit, and sportsmanlike spirit. [5] In 1916, the association coordinated twenty-eight basketball teams and planned a tournament to meet the desires of the organization’s 250 participants. By 1917, the organization started consistently calling itself the “Women’s Athletic Organization”.

WAA Stunt Night
Image of an organization performing at stunt night, Minnieska, 1960

The association continued to grow throughout the 1920s. In response, they corralled teams in a variety of sports, including the traditional sports they played, like tennis and basketball, and other new sports, like field hockey, captain’s ball, swimming, dancing, indoor baseball, and volleyball. [6] The Women’s Athletic Association was related to the Physical Department at the Normal School. The Minnieska stated: “Girls’ athletics are continually commanding more and more attention in our schools; this year, the interest in athletics in Whitewater Normal was quite out of the ordinary.” [7] The organization also organized other campus events, including the famous “stunt night,” which they started sponsoring in 1930. [8] Stunt night was an opportunity for students from all the organizations on campus to perform a skit, including singing, dancing, and or general acting. [9] Before campus was vibrant with student activities, stunt night provided a unique opportunity for students to connect with other students and contribute to something larger than themselves. The event was popular for students and was a tradition on campus until the late 1960s.

WAA Basketball game
WAA Basketball game, Minnieska, 1967

In 1961, the organization changed its name to the “Women’s Recreation Association” to align itself with other state colleges that were also changing their name. The 1960s led to the growth of the organization club sponsors, officers, and liaisons for each active sport. [10] However, participation in the 1970s dwindled as formal athletic opportunities became increasingly available, including the Wisconsin Women’s Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. [11] The Women’s Athletic Association and Women’s Recreation Association provided an avenue for women to participate in athletics, be part of a team, and develop good sportsmanship. Organizations like W.A.A. have solidified a place in history as trailblazers for women’s athletics at UW-Whitewater and have paved the way for the success of our future women’s sports.  

[1] “National Championship Teams”, accessed on December 5, 2023 https://uwwsports.com/sports/2012/3/27/GEN_0327122239.aspx

[2] Ladies Athletic Association, Constitution of the Ladies Athletic Association of the State Normal of Whitewater (Whitewater: State Normal School of Whitewater, November 1896) University of Wisconsin-Whitewater Archives.

[3] “The Girls’ Tennis Team”, The Royal Purple, October 1, 1902, 13. https://www.jstor.org/stable/community.31766341

[4] Minnieska, 1922, UW-Whitewater Archives and Area Research Center,84. https://www.jstor.org/stable/community.29546555

[5] Minnieska, 1913, UW-Whitewater Archives and Area Research Center,98. https://www.jstor.org/stable/community.29546546

[6] Minnieska, 1923, UW-Whitewater Archives and Area Research Center, 102-107. https://www.jstor.org/stable/community.29546556

[7] Ibid, 102.

[8] Minnieska, 1930, UW-Whitewater Archives and Area Research Center, 82. https://www.jstor.org/stable/community.29546563

[9] Ibid, 97.

[10] Minnieska, 1961, UW-Whitewater Archives and Area Research Center, 76. https://www.jstor.org/stable/community.29811951

[11] Pete Janecky, “Van Steenderen resigns position” in The Royal Purple

This entry was posted in Archives & ARC. Bookmark the permalink.