Archery Girls

Nearly every time I turned on the Olympics this past weekend archery was on, which was fine with me as I am an Olympics Conservative.  I like the traditional sports, played by amateurs:  no beach volleyball for me (especially in London, where it looks very silly).  Archery strikes me as very traditional, even though the bows and uniforms have been seriously updated.  A slim win for the Italian gentlemen, and yet another gold medal (the 7th in a row) for the South Korean ladies.  I read several funny tweets from British archery fans, who were disappointed by their archers, and wondered what would have happened at Agincourt if their forebears put in a similar performance:  no band of brothers today!

The gold-medal-winning Italian men and South Korean women archers, and their late medieval predecessors.  British Library MS Yates Thompson 29, c. 1500.

The South Korean ladies look a lot better than the Italian men, which is saying a lot, as the latter are Italian.  While the Olympians are, of course, exemplary, there is nothing new in their outward appearance:  archery seems to have given women opportunities to look stylishly sporty for at least a century.  I found a charming photograph of fledgling archers at the university (then college) where I teach:  these Salem State ladies, in their very neat uniforms, are on the field in the spring of 1965.

Salem State archers in 1965: Salem State Archives flickr.

The Salem girls were just the tip of the iceberg:  I found records and images of archery meets for women held from the late nineteenth century onwards, all over America.  Was archery the sport of liberation, I wonder?  And these ladies always looked good:  beautiful ensembles before World War I; more sporting attire afterwards.

Archery images from the Library of Congress, including images of a meet in Boston in 1900, and of the very serious archer Mary Brownell, c. 1910-15.

My last archery image is from a beautiful collection of very arts-and-craftsy illustrations in William Nicholson’s Almanac of Twelve Sports (1898):  this archery girl is perfect for the waning days of July.

5 responses to “Archery Girls

  • markd60

    The bow and arrow was probably the greatest advance in human weaponry. I had some grade school friends seriously into it and it is a very cool sport. There’s an Olympic sport (I think) where they’re on skis, skiing for awhile, stop and shoot a couple arrows, ski some more, shoot a couple more etc. I think it’s funny and fun to watch.

  • markd60

    Oh yes, my friends little sister was a very good archer, much better than me. She’d have the bowstring mooshing her mouth, like in your pictures.

  • susangeckle

    Lovely photos. I agree that the Olympics should be played by amateurs. It lost alot of charm when professionals were let in. I don’t know why, but letting in pros feels like stealing from an orphan.

  • thesalemgarden

    I would love to see more coverage of these types of sports on the tv olympic coverage.

  • Anyes Kadowaki Busby

    I remember archery classes in high school and I’m not a senior, honest. Perhaps it was a Quebec thing.

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