The Way Back: A Place of Their Own

Women at UT enjoyed dancing as one of their athletic options, 1923.

Before the sports we know today, options for women’s physical education at UT Austin were much more limited. Title IX wasn’t passed until June 1972, which guaranteed equal opportunities for both men and women in athletics. But under Anna Hiss, women had more options than possibly many other schools at the time.  

In 1923, options for “co-ed sports” on campus included canoeing, tennis, hockey, swimming—known as “The Turtle Club”—and dancing. The staff of co-educational sports included Director of Physical Training Hiss, and the goal was to “train girls to be the highest type of American women,” according to the 1923 Cactus yearbook—“girls who represent health, vitality, and initiative.” Competitiveness was not the name of the game for proper 1920s women.   

Hiss, a champion of women’s athletics, started teaching “physical training” to UT’s women in 1918 before being named director of the subject in 1921. Hiss went on to found several sports clubs on campus from 1921 to 1929, including swimming, dance, tennis, horseback riding, fencing, and archery. After using her own money touring gyms across the country over 10 years, she secured funding for UT’s Women’s Gymnasium, the first space on campus dedicated to women’s sports that opened in 1931.  

Hiss retired in 1957, and the Women’s Gymnasium was renamed the Anna Hiss Gymnasium in 1974. UT is now home to 10 intercollegiate women’s sports teams, and dance has become its own major.  

CREDIT: Courtesy of The Dolph Briscoe Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin


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