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This year, to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the passage of Title IX in 1972, Nashville Sites has released a driving tour focusing on women’s sports history across the Volunteer state. Funded and sponsored by the Metro Historical Commission Foundation, Nashville Sites's tour looks at women’s athletics both before and after the passage of Title IX, which prohibited sex-based discrimination in any school or other education program that receives funding from the federal government. Just a few of the spots on the tour are the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame in Nashville, the University of Tennessee-Martin in Weakley County, the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in Knoxville, and our own Tennessee State Museum.
The Tennesssee State Museum is excited to be a part of the tour and for the opportunity to highlight multiple objects in its collection that pertain to the history of women’s sports in Tennessee. Below are a few of the individuals and objects you'll encounter while you're here.
Few individuals are more synonyms with athletics in Tennessee then former University of Tennessee-Knoxville women’s basketball coach Pat Summitt. Born in Clarksville, Summitt attended Cheatham County Central High School to play basketball. Visitors to the State Museum can see Summitt’s high school varsity letter from 1969, as well as Summitt’s iconic orange sweater vest worn while coaching in Knoxville. Summitt’s career at Tennessee lasted 38 years and included 1,098 wins and eight National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), National Championships.
(Tennessee State Museum collection, 2017.2.5)
(Tennessee State Museum collection, 2016.193.15)
For more information on Pat Summitt and her story, visitors can also check out the Museum’s Thousands of Stories blog for a post titled: “Artifacts Tell the Story of Pat Summitt’s Early Tennessee Life.”
Nashville Business College
While Summitt may be one of the most well-known figures in Tennessee athletics, the tour also highlights other individuals and stories prior to Title IX. One example is the Nashville Business College (NBC) women’s basketball team and the tournament known as the 1957 International Basketball Federation (FIBA) World Championship for Women.
Prior to the passage of Title IX and the sponsorship of women’s basketball by the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) and later the NCAA, there were few options for women to compete in the sport post high school. One organization which did provide such opportunities was the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU.) Teams such as the Hutcherson Flying Queens of Wayland Baptist University and NBC competed in the AAU. NBC was particularly successful, winning 11 AAU National Championships under coach John Head, including eight consecutive titles between 1962 and 1969.
The AAU also helped organize United States women’s national teams so they could compete in tournaments, such as the FIBA World Championship for Women. Years before Title IX, this tournament saw female athletes from the United States, the Soviet Union, Paraguay, and Czechoslovakia compete against each other on the international stage. Given the success of the NBC teams of the 1950s and 1960s, the United States national team roster often included multiple Nashville athletes.
One example of this is the United States team at the 1957 FIBA World Championship for Women, held in Brazil. This team included five women who played for NBC: Katherine Washington, Peggy Tate, Jo Ann Crawford, Nera White, and Doris Scoggins. Furthermore, the team was coached by Head, and the National Women’s AAU Basketball Chairman was Tennie McGhee of Nashville. The US team ultimately won the tournament by defeating the Soviet Union 51-48 in the final game. The title trophy pictured below, which is on display at the State Museum, was given to the team following their victory.
(Tennessee State Museum collection, 2015.81.17.1.1)
The 1957 United States Team poses with the title trophy (Tennessee State Museum collection, 2015.81.17.2)
Tennessee State University Tigerbelles
The Tennessee State University (TSU) Tigerbelles track team under head coach Ed Temple also excelled in international competition. During Temple’s 40 plus years as a coach at TSU, which began in 1950, the TSU Tigerbelles took home numerous medals in multiple Olympic competitions. Four of those medals were won by Clarksville native Wilma Rudolph. The peak of Rudolph’s Olympic track success came at the 1960 Games in Rome where she won gold three times. Other Tigerbelle Olympians included: Mae Faggs, Barbara Jones, and Chandra Cheeseborough.
The publication pictured below was distributed in 1996 in Nashville as the Olympic flame was making its way to Georgia for the Atlanta Games. It commemorates the Olympic success of the Tigerbelles from the 1952 Helsinki Olympics to the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. Impressively, Ed Temple was the coach at TSU during this entire period.
(Tennessee State Museum Collection, 1997.61.9)
In addition to the stories listed above, the Nashville Sites tour also covers moments in women’s sports history that predate World War II. This includes the story of golfer Marguerite Gaut.
From Memphis, Gaut began golfing in 1911. She soon became a successful athlete, winning the Southern Women’s Championship four times over the course of her career. The trophy pictured below, which is on display, is from the Women’s Southern Golf Association’s Tenth Annual Tournament. This tournament was held in Atlanta, Georgia and began on October 17, 1921. Gaut entered the tournament as the reigning champion and successfully defended her title, receiving this Reed and Barton sterling silver trophy as a prize. Gaut also served as the president of the Women’s Southern Golf Association in the 1930s. Gaut was honored and inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame for her achievements in 1968.
(Tennessee State Museum collection, 1998.96.23)
These are just a few examples of the stories that are told at the Tennessee State Museum and through the Nashville Sites driving tour. To learn more about the history of women’s sports in Tennessee and to take the driving tour, visit Nashville Sites’ website.
Matthew Gailani is a Tennessee State Museum curator. He most recenty wrote for the Thousands of Stories blog about The Expansion of the Southeastern Conference (SEC).
Elliott, Dakota. “Artifacts Tell the Story of Pat Summitt's Early Tennessee Life.” Tennessee State Museum. Accessed March 9, 2022. https://tnmuseum.org/Stories/posts/pat-summitt-early-life.
“FIBA Women's Basketball World Cup History.” FIBA Basketball. Accessed March 9, 2022. https://www.fiba.basketball/womensbasketballworldcup/2022/history.
Ikard, Robert W. Just for Fun: The Story of AAU Women's Basketball. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2005.
Lovett, Bobby L. “Rudolph, Wilma (1940-1994) and the TSU Tigerbelles.” Tennessee Encyclopedia. Tennessee Historical Society, March 1, 2018. https://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/entries/wilma-rudolph-1940-1994-and-the-tsu-tigerbelles/.
Lovett, Bobby L. “Temple, Edward S.” Tennessee Encyclopedia. Tennessee Historical Society, March 1, 2018. https://tennesseeencyclopedia.net/entries/edward-s-temple/.
“Second World Championship for Women -- 1957.” USA Basketball. Accessed March 9, 2022. https://www.usab.com/history/national-team-womens/second-world-championship-for-women-1957.aspx.
West, Carroll Van. “The Tennessee State University Tigerbelles: Cold Warriors of the Track.” Essay. In Separate Games: African American Sport behind the Walls of Segregation, edited by David Kenneth Wiggins and Ryan A. Swanson. Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 2016.