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Who was the first woman of rugby ?
by John Birch
we know so far…..
Valentine had at least three children of school
age including William (aged about 16), John (aged about 10/11), and
“Miss E F Valentine” all of whom attended the school. The three
children wanted to play rugby, and with the help of several friends
started playing. To begin with this was not supported by the school, who
denied them access to the main school field, but they still practiced
and played intra-school matches every Saturday. The first official
matches against external opposition took place in 1887, but several
records suggest that there were games as early as 1885 against local
opposition, possibly in combination with Enniskillen Rugby Club.
School records, and letters from Miss Valentine
(later Mrs Galway) in the 1950s, show that she definitely took part in
the practices and intra-school games, and some records suggest the
external games as well. Several sources say that the entire
three-quarter line was made up of Valentines, with Miss E F playing on
William Valentine (snr) would appear to have left
the school in about 1891 when a new head was appointed. Both William (jnr)
and John went to
is this significant?
There may not appear to be much information – but there is far more known (and documented!) about Miss Valentine that William Webb Ellis, the supposed “founder” of the game!
However more than this there are – astonishingly
- simply no other records at all of any women or girls playing rugby of
any sort in the nineteenth century – either as individuals or as
teams. The only other nineteenth century record of about an abortive
attempt to form a women’s touring team in
After that a handful of photographs, and less than
two minutes of film, shows that women’s rugby was played in France,
Australia and New Zealand in the 1920s and 1930s, but there are no
records of who played and how popular was – and these pioneering
attempts ended with the War, after which there are no records of any
women playing rugby until the 1960s when the game began to be played in
the UK, North America and France. Women’s clubs began to appear in
these countries and
But it was not until 1990 – over 100 years after
Miss Valentine fought to get her school team started – that
this the complete story?
Women’s sport rarely gets the coverage that
men’s sport gets – but despite that we know that women’s cricket
has been played for over 250 years, and women’s football has a well
documented history going back 100 years. Compared to these sports
women’s rugby’s history is patchy and incredibly recent – so much
so that anyone who played or has any stories, photographs or records
from even before 1960 and 1970s may not realise how important they are.
What we are looking to do is to uncover this hidden history of the game!
With this in mind what we are hoping to do it find
more we can discover about the remarkable Miss E F Valentine!
there any other Miss Valentines? It would, perhaps, be even more
remarkable if she really was the only female to play rugby before 1900!
other “hidden” tales and – above all – photographs of women
playing rugby (or even being prevented from playing). Even tales as
recently as the 1960s and 1970s would be significant finds, and anything
before that pure gold.
Pictured below playing mini-rugby in 1975 is Dawn Laidlaw. The powers to be stopped her playing soon after this and she gracefully retired from the game.
To view the case of women's rugby exhibits at the NR125 exhibition and for more information on women's rugby please click on one of the items in the case below............
John Birch (rugby historian), Dai Richards (World Rugby Museum),
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