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.