It was a rough game for the College of Charleston women’s basketball team. They fell hard to the YWCA with a crushing final score of 26 to 8. The year was 1919. When six young women set foot on the court for the first time as college students, they were not only part of the first group of women to attend the College, which had admitted female students only a year earlier, they were pioneers of a sport that was then less than 30 years old.
That match more than 100 years ago was the first game the women’s basketball team at CofC ever played. Pierrine St. Claire Smith Byrd ’22, who would become the first female graduate of the College, scored all eight points that day. Fittingly, she became the team captain for the next two years (that’s her holding the ball in the photo of the 1921 team). Smith was diligent in her duties, collecting newspaper clippings chronicling the team’s wins and losses.
Unlike modern athletic uniforms where comfort and flexibility are key, the early women “Maroons” wore modest, constrictive wool clothing out on the court. Their uniforms included long-sleeved shirts, skirts, tights and laced-up shoes. According to Smith, “The uniforms were blouses and bloomers. We had on hose. Of course we didn’t have any legs showing. That would have been outrageous.”
Women playing any sort of intercollegiate sport was controversial in the early 20th century. It was believed that the competitive aspect of athletics could cause women to develop “un-feminine” attributes. The women played half court games, meant to limit their exertion and focus instead on teamwork, accuracy and competency.
Despite the many restrictions placed upon them, the early “coeds” pushed back against the limitations of their time, paving the way for decades of women’s basketball players here at the College, which now proudly boasts an NCAA Division 1 team.