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University of Chicago Department of Athletics & Recreation

Graduate Women's Athletic Association History and Information


General Information

The University of Chicago's Women's Athletic Association was founded in 1904. As opportunities for women in sports changed and grew, the organization evolved from one that promoted intramural opportunities to the letterwinner's organization for varsity women.

The Women's Advisory Board for Athletics was founded in 1975 to provide an opportunity for alumnae to connect with other athletes and to support the work of current Chicago athletes. In 1985, the name was changed to the Graduate Women's Athletic Association (GWAA) to acknowledge the close link between current students and alumnae.

The mission of the GWAA is to act as a conduit for the establishment of a network of women helping women. We want to foster engaging and meaningful relationships between female alumni who played varsity sports at the University of Chicago and support current female athletes at the university.

Over the years, GWAA has supported and managed a variety of programs and events that have enabled the success of women athletes on campus. Our current programs and events include:

  • The Edith Ballwebber Fund, an endowed fund for female athletes, which funds international travel for our collegiate teams and has become a hallmark of the University of Chicago Athletics experience.
  • Annual GWAA and Women's Athletic Association (WAA) Career Networking Night, which is an opportunity for GWAA members to connect and share their career stories with current female athletes.

Membership in GWAA is open to alumni of the University of Chicago who were members of the WAA during their college careers. We want to continue to strengthen and cultivate this network of women helping women through programs and events that are beneficial to you and our current female athletes.


Brief History of Women's Sports at UChicago

Early sports were organized as intramural contests between senior and junior college teams (field hockey, basketball, baseball and tennis).

With the move to Ida Noyes Hall in 1916, swimming became an important part of the program (though Amos Alonzo Stagg had accommodated the women at Bartlett pool with special women's hours)

In the '20s and '30s intramural participation continued along with the development of specialty clubs (Tarpon-swimming, 300 Club-bowling, Pegasus-equestrian, Artemis-archery, Racket-tennis and an Outing Club).

Intercollegiate competition in the '30s and '40s was conducted during Play Days. Schools from the Midwest would gather at one site and teams were formed with representatives from different schools. This allowed a higher level of competition without the "danger" of too much emphasis on winning. Telegraphic competition was held in swimming and archery. Individuals would compete at their home institution and the results were compiled at a neutral site to determine place finishes.

Intramural and club competition continued in the '50s and '60s with some very limited intercollegiate competition against teams from colleges, high schools and the Naval Wave training base at Navy Pier. Competition was conducted in basketball, softball, swimming, tennis and volleyball

More organized intercollegiate scheduling began in the late '60s with the arrival of Mary Jean Mulvaney (Chairman of the Department) and Patricia Kirby, who coached badminton, basketball, softball and volleyball.

Teams competed under the direction of the Association of Intercollegiate Athletic for Women until the NCAA sanctioned competition for women in 1982.

Competition in the Midwest Athletic Conference for Women continued until the formation of the University Athletic Association in 1987.


History: Founding in 1904

From the Chicago Tribune
January 23, 1904

"Four hundred and fifty women, President William R. Harper and 'just enough men to keep, Prexy from feeling lonesome' as one girl put it sat down last evening at the dinner given by the Women's Athletic Association. The dinner, the first ever given expressly for the women students, was held in Hutchinson hall. The men temporarily being sent from their dining room and relegated to the Commons.

As much enthusiasm was shown as at a football rally, cheers and "rahs" greeting all the speakers, while a toast to the athletic association, given by twenty six girls was the feature of the evening. The girl athletes especially were honored, Miss Marie Ortmayer the President of the Association escorting Coach Stagg to dinner.

The toast to the association was alphabetic in character, each of the twenty-six girls in order reciting a verse beginning with the letter of the alphabet. The girl whose verse began with "O" said:

"O" stands for occasion, we wish there were more
To call for such meetings on the men's commons floor"