Before the War

The first full WAAA competition was held in 1923 in Bromley, Kent, with Mary Lines winning five events. 1923 saw the third and final Monte Carlo Games as well as international matches in Antwerp and Paris, in which the England team were victorious.      

Interest in women’s athletics began to grow. The 1924 International Women’s Games drew crowds of 25 000 spectators to Stamford Bridge after it was promoted in The News of the World and newspaper coverage of WAAA championships in the early years ensured that women’s athletics was on the radar. 1926 saw the second Women’s World Games held in Gothenburg, which Team England won overall with stand out performances from sprinters Rose Thompson, Eileen Edwards and Vera Palmer (as she was still then), and high jumper Hilda Hatt. The official report on the games was glowing, praising not only the athletes, whose desire to conquer [and] the ability to accept defeat [show] sure signs of true sportswomenship, but the work of the leaders and coaches too. The WAAA was getting results.

WAAA bronze medal won by Rose Thompson in 1927. The design of this medal is based on the medal Rose won in 1923 in France.
Courtesy of Deaves Family Private Collection.

There was still scepticism surrounding women’s athletics. Discussion on the potentially damaging effects of physical activity on women played out in the press throughout the early decades, but in spite of this the WAAA was getting increasing numbers of participants both on and off the track.

The 1920s and 30s saw the appearance of athletes who would go on to become important administrators within the sport. Sprinters Rose Thompson (later Gillis) who would go on to serve as a WAAA official and England Team Manager, and Vera Palmer (later Searle), an integral member of the WAAA for many decades, and long jumper Muriel Gunn (later Cornell), the first woman to be elected to what would become the British Amateur Athletic Board (BAAB) and the first WAAA member on the British Olympic Association Council. Dorette Nelson Neale also began competing in the late 1920s before becoming involved in the running of the WAAA in the 1930s.