Women and Rugby League: Gender, Class and Community in the North of England, 1880-1970




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De Montfort University


Thesis or dissertation

Peer reviewed


This thesis is a history of women’s involvement in rugby league between 1880 and 1970. It shows that whilst women were traditionally excluded from playing rugby league, they were involved in the game, as supporters, volunteers and organisers. Women were also the mothers, wives, sisters or daughters of men who played or administered rugby, and were thus involved in the sport at the most personal level, providing a reservoir of unpaid labour to support their menfolk, but also suffering when injury or retirement from rugby reduced the family income. The thesis demonstrates that women have been an integral part of rugby league from its earliest days as a spectator sport in the north of England.

This research explores how women found the space to assert their right to a role within rugby league and to derive their own enjoyment from it. It argues that women’s relationship with the sport was exceedingly complex and often appeared to be contradictory. Women volunteers were pushed into traditional supportive roles in their clubs yet used their position to exert influence and some power over those clubs. Working-class women were able to mark out areas of authority in their families and communities by working independently within rugby league’s patriarchal framework.

This thesis asks whether their involvement in rugby league reflects women’s social, economic and political status in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, and, by exploring women’s lived experiences and foregrounding overlooked measures of success, also reassesses the questions asked by historians of sport. Feminist in its methodology, the thesis also strives for intersectionality in terms of class and other formative relationships, such as age, geography, economy and cultural identity. It shows the depth of experiences of women involved in rugby league and offers a new way of understanding how women engaged with sport.





Research Institute