50 Years of Women's Varsity Athletics at Yale: A Historic Retrospective

Second Quarter: The Roster Expands

Giving a fellow teammate the chance to spike the opponents, sophomore Cathy Bell reverently sets the ball. Women's Volleyball, 1988-1989.

As women's athletics entered into its second decade, this expansion would represent significant progress in the establishment of an equal footing for Women's sports at Yale.  However, lingering issues continued to plague women's sports.  Improvements to facilities, as well as additional coaching and funding, would become features of women's sports into the 1980s.  

"I played lacrosse all four years but it became a varsity sport in my junior year, so I only earned two varsity letters...I still remember Coach Bowditch yelling her mantra: "Come to meet the ball."...Competing in the 70s at Yale had its challenges with the daily battles we faced, but we prevailed and fielded very competitive teams, and created lasting friendships."

-Anne Keating, Class of 1977

Between 1976 and 1981, eight additional Women's varsity teams would be established: lacrosse (1976), soccer (1977), ice hockey (1977), cross country (1977), volleyball (1977), track and field (1977), softball (1978) and golf (1981). 

Lacrosse 1974-1975

Softball 1983

Ice Hockey 1978

Gymnastics 1983-1984

Golf 1984-1985

Volleyball 1978

Track and Field 1977-1978

Cross Country 1976-1977

Soccer 1977

"We were so excited at the end of classes each day to catch the bus from Payne Whitney to our field...We were hungry to play on a team, to be coached, to learn skills, and build our strength...Each day we stayed long after practice until it was officially over, playing small games against each other and taking shots on goals until it was too dark to see anymore, or until the last bus back to campus...Recently, I was visiting with friends, a mother in her thirties and her four year old son.  We kicked the soccer ball around.  I noted that she had some skills and said she'd played soccer as a little girl.  She asked if I'd played soccer growing up. I told her we didn't have girls teams back then.  She was shocked.  She couldn't imagine a world where girls and women didn't play on soccer teams.  I was thrilled."

-Barbara Frank, Class of 1977

Soccer 1979-1980

Softball 1983-1984

Lacrosse 1983-1984


Club sports like Women's Rugby (below) were also increasing in popularity.  An October 1981 Yale Daily News article quotes rugby captain Missy Simonds, Class of 1983, describing her sport as "elegant violence."

Rugby Team 1982

Rugby 1983

Rugby 1983

"Give blood—play women's rugby." 
Kaori M. Yamada BR '98

Quote from Rugby alumna


In 1977, University Athletics began to recognize outstanding women athletes through the Nellie P. Elliott Award.  Elliott served as Assistant Director of Undergraduate Admissions from 1918 to 1964 and was awarded the 1965 Yale Medal for her outstanding service to the university.  The recipient of the Elliott Award is an undergraduate senior "whose excellence in the field of athletics and in her life represents the ideals of sportsmanship and Yale tradition."

Elliott Award press release 1977

Patricia Melton, Class of 1983 was the first woman of color to receive the Nellie P. Elliot Award.  

"Yale Track & Field and the Athletics community in general served as a refuge for me to heal in a protective and supportive environment when my brother was murdered in 1980.  That close knit and warm atmosphere where athletes are like family has kept me involved and thankful to call myself a Bulldog to this day."

-Patricia Melton, Class of 1983

Track 1983

Ice Hockey 1983-1984

Volleyball 1979-1980

The Captain's Poll was a way for both student athletes and Yale Athletics to evaluate the state of Yale Athletics in terms of recruiting, coaching, facilities, and other pressing issues.  Early polls were administered by the sub-committee of the Yale Athletics Governing Board as part of its Title IX compliance obligations.  Additional polling was conducted by the Student Committee on Athletics as a way to anonymously convey concerns and pose suggestions to Yale Athletics.  Excerpts from a Captain's Poll taken after the 1983-1984 season are a revealing look into the issues that women's sports continued to face.  

The introduction to the 1983-1984 Captain's Poll acknowledges the need for parity in sports across the entirety of Yale Athletics.  At the bottom contains a quote on the issue of recruiting in Women's sports.  

The "Overall Comments" reflect support for Yale Athletics by the varsity captains and recommends areas of improvement. 

List of teams participating in the Captain's Poll. 

An undated Yale Herald letter to the editor.  The writer outlines many of the problems facing the Women's Volleyball team. 

In a piece entitled "Sports Profile" featured in the 1982 Class Book, author Sharon Livieri writes that "Though opposition is less marked today than in the past, a female athlete must still confront and justify the appropriateness of her pursuit by demonstrating that the benefits can co-exist with her femininity."

"Sports Profile" by Sharon Livieri page 1

"Sports Profile" by Sharon Livieri page 2