Women's sports at The Polytechnic

Women playing netball
Netball has been a popular women’s sport since the early twentieth century.

Originally founded as an all-male establishment, women were allowed limited use of the Polytechnic’s sports facilities from 1883. Many men at the institution frowned upon women’s participation in sport; nevertheless by 1907 the Polytechnic Women’s Netball Club was formed. Today the club is certified by the Guinness Book of World Records as being the world’s oldest netball club still in existence.

By 1921 the Polytechnic Ladies Athletic Club had been formed. In the same year, a team of 21 athletes drawn from both the Regent Street and Woolwich Polytechnics travelled to Monte Carlo to represent England in the first Women’s Olympiad. The Poly’s Mary Lines won the 60m and 280m, set a new Long Jump record and was a member of the winning netball and display competition team. Mary Lines would go on to dominate the early championships of the Women’s Amateur Athletic Association, which was formed in 1922.

The arrival of new gym facilities in 1929 in the Little Titchfield Street building helped women reach their sporting potential and be taken more seriously. The Poly’s Violet Webb was chosen to represent England at the 1932 Los Angeles Olympics in hurdling, and won Bronze in the 4x100m relay. Her achievements led to the Polytechnic creating an award for the best women’s athletic performance, the Elsie Hoare Trophy.

Due to World War II, the Elsie Hoare Trophy wasn’t awarded for the first time until 1946, when it was won by Mary Glen-Haig for fencing. Glen-Haig competed in the 1948, 1952, 1956 and 1960 Olympic Games, and won Gold medals at the 1950 and 1954 Commonwealth Games. She is a Life Member of the International Olympic Committee and assisted the campaign to bring the Games back to London in 2012.

Throughout the 1960s, the Poly continued to send women fencers to the Olympic and Commonwealth Games. The women also had success in the field of Gymnastics, with Margaret Bell becoming Gymnastic Champion of Great Britain in 1966, and competing at the Mexico City Games in 1968. Women’s sport has continued to thrive at the University and current female students can take part in numerous sports such as basketball, football, volleyball, rowing, cheerleading, kick boxing and dance.


Find out more in our poster on Women's sports at The Polytechnic (PDF).