Eloise Walker of Glasgow Uni Hare and Hounds, Michelle Sandison of Springburn Harriers and Freya Ross of Falkirk Vics lead the charge in the Women’s race at the Lindsays National XC Relays in Ocotber 2019 (photo by Bobby Gavin)
By Arnold Black
The appearance of women in structured competition was non-existent before World War 1 and although the men had formed the Scottish Amateur Athletic Association in 1883, the first recognised competition for the women alongside the men was the introduction of ladies’ events at the Aberdeen University Sports in 1919.
This was the first university sports since before the war and saw the introduction of ladies’ events for the first time. A 220 yards’ race, high jump, broad (long) jump and a sack race were contested.
However, Aberdeen was a rarity in providing this range of events. The Glasgow University sports of 1919 featured a Ladies’ Hockey dribbling race. Most of the other Scottish universities would include a 100 yards race and possibly a relay.
Outside of universities competition, women were scarcely recognised and there were rarely any women’s events held alongside the men’s meetings.
Elsewhere though, women’s athletics was taking shape. The Women’s Amateur Athletic Association was formed early in 1922 and the inaugural WAAA Championships were held later that year.
It was not until 1932, however, before a Scottish athlete would win a medal at these championships, Constance Johnson taking silver in the 880 yards.
Athletics in Aberdeen was gathering strength and the Aberdeen Journal reported on 8 June 1922 on the formation of the Aberdeen Women’s Athletic Club.
The membership numbered 50. On Saturday 1 July 1922, at the Culter Games, it was noted that “the appearance of the Aberdeen Women’s Athletic Association representatives provided a new attraction in the open arena. Ten girls competed in the high jump, running and walking events and they showed much keenness and received the plaudits of the crowd for their performance.”
Laura Greig in hurdles action in Aberdeen in 1930 (photo via Arnold Black)
If the rest of the world had progressed to a women’s World Games and the W.A.A.A. had an established championship in England, progress in Scotland was painfully slow.
The universities took a step towards the recognition of women by including a relay race (won by Aberdeen) at the 1927 Inter-University Championships.
The following year, an individual race was held for the first time, Laura Greig winning a 100 yards race in 12.4 seconds, as well as anchoring Aberdeen to victory in the relay in 55.8.
In 1929, the Universities extended the number of ladies’ events to three with the addition of the 440 yards. Miss Greig won this as well as the 100 yards. In the first 3 years of ladies’ events being held at the Inter-Universities Championships, she had a 100% win record across the 6 events held.
In early 1930, the annual general meeting of the S.A.A.A. (the men’s association) was held in the Free Gardeners’ Hall, Picardy Place, Edinburgh on 22 February. Mr F. Hamilton (North of Scotland) presided, and 72 delegates, including a representative of the Women’s Athletic Club, were present.
It was agreed that women’s clubs be not admitted to full membership of the Association, but that they be invited to form themselves into an association, to which affiliation could be granted.
This started the wheels in motion towards the development of women’s athletics as an organised sport, 47 years after the men’s governing body had been set up.
On the track, women’s athletics was beginning to extend beyond university competition. In June 1930, a contest took place at Craiglockhart, Edinburgh, between teams from Edinburgh University Women’s Athletic Club and the Edinburgh Women’s Athletic Club, with the University winning 24-12.
Women’s events were also starting to be added to predominantly men’s meetings. The Glasgow Police Sports featured a ladies’ sprint and relay, as did the Rangers Sports. The Inter-University championships included a high jump competition, the first time a ladies’ field event had been included.
The first Scottish Women’s AAA track and field champs were held in the summer of 1931 (photo via Arnold Black)
At a meeting held in Glasgow on 12 August 1930, it was decided to proceed with the formation of a Scottish Women’s Amateur Athletics Association.
Eight clubs were represented – Edinburgh Women’s A.C., Civil Service A.C., St. Peter’s A.A.C., Imperial Tobacco Company A.C., Bellahouston Harriers, Maryhill Harriers, Stranraer Harriers and Greenock Wellpark Harriers.
A proposed constitution was submitted, and it was remitted to an interim executive to communicate this to the various clubs interested, and make arrangements for a general meeting to be held for the purpose of adopting it and electing permanent officials.
It was agreed that the delegation from each club at this future meeting should consist of two women and one male member, the latter being present in an advisory capacity without power to vote.
That inaugural meeting was held in Glasgow on 25 September 1930 with Mr R. F. Dalziel (Maryhill Harriers), the interim president, presiding. The constitution, as prepared by the interim Executive, was adopted and office-bearers were elected. Mr Dalziel was elected president, Miss Anna Miller, secretary and Miss M. McDonald (Bellahouston Harriers), treasurer. The first Committee was formed and consisted of the following ladies: F.D. Urquhart (Civil Service), I. Paterson (Edinburgh Women’s), V. Finlayson (Imperial Tobacco), R. O’Callaghan (St Peter’s), J. Boyd (Greenock Wellpark), I. McPhee (Kilbarchan), J. Black (Maryhill), J. Stewart (Shettleston), E. Fairlie (Plebeian) and R. White (Edinburgh University).
13 clubs were represented at the meeting, the eight at the original meeting, plus Edinburgh University A.C., Shettleston Harriers, Kilbarchan A.C., Plebeian Harriers, and Lumley’s A.A.C.
The early path-finders – one man and 12 women – paved the way for the kind of success ultimately enjoyed by Lee McConnell in Scottish women’s athletics
The first event promoted by the Scottish Women’s A. A. A. took the form of an eight-miles relay championship, which was decided within the grounds of Bothwell Castle on 13 December 1930.
Of the entry of 13 clubs, ten were from the West and one each from Penicuik, Dundee, and Hawick. Teams comprised eight members, each of whom in turn was called upon to negotiate a circuit of approximately a mile.
The Scotsman reported:
‘The fixture could hardly be called an outstanding success. Up till now the women’s cross-country sections have been keeping to ordinary pack runs, this being, generally speaking, their racing baptism. Neither the course nor the distance could be classed as severe, but the form shown varied greatly, and a number of the competitors were very much distressed. As for the race itself, it had rather an unsatisfactory ending, the result being allowed to stand despite the obvious fact that the last member of the winning team was assisted to the tape. By all the laws of athletics disqualification should have followed, but it did not.
‘While changes in the placings were rung throughout the course of the race, the leadership always lay with Shettleston Harriers. The Hawkhill (Dundee) team did not start too well, but consistently good all-round work gradually told its toll until at the finish they were only 15 seconds behind Shettleston.
‘Result:- 1. Shettleston Harriers, 61 mins. 35 secs.; 2, Hawkhill Harriers, 61 mins 50 secs; 3, Maryhill Harriers, 62 mins 10 secs.’
And so, the era of organised women’s athletics had started. A new governing body, a first competition. Progress had been made.
Senior Women’s team podium at the Lindsays National XC Relays at Cumbernauld in 2019 – with Edinburgh Uni Hare and Hounds joined by Edinburgh AC and Giffnock North AC (photo by Bobby Gavin)