Dorothy Anderson and Women in Sport: An In-Depth Study

Open Access
Slotcavage, Thomas John
Area of Honors:
Bachelor of Science
Document Type:
Thesis Supervisors:
  • Mark Dyreson, Thesis Supervisor
  • Mary Jane De Souza, Honors Advisor
  • Dorothy Anderson
  • Women's Tennis
  • Penn State Tennis
During the early 1930s, Dorothy Louise Anderson became the first woman to compete in intercollegiate athletics at what was then the Pennsylvania State College. She played on the varsity men’s tennis team, earning a letter and graduating in 1935. She later had a notable career as an amateur tennis player, including winning the Wisconsin women’s tennis championship in 1942. Almost three decades after Anderson played for the Nittany Lions, the university began their women’s varsity program in 1964 as part of the old Eastern Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women. This paper explores Anderson’s career at Penn State in an effort to determine whether she was aberration—the only woman to have competed in intercollegiate sport before the development of women’s varsity teams in the 1960s—or a harbinger of future developments in women’s sports at Penn State. There are a series of questions addressed throughout the paper regarding Dorothy Anderson, a woman that played on the men’s varsity tennis team in the 1930s, including: Who is Dorothy Anderson, and why was she the first woman at Penn State to pioneer the intercollegiate sport? Is Dorothy Anderson unique, or, were there were women similar to her around the country at other universities? The main source of information regarding Ms. Anderson is from the Penn State archives, as it holds the majority of the information about her time at Penn State. That information includes publications from local newspapers, yearbooks, and any other samples written about her from her time at Penn State. Additionally, research was pulled from major publications such as the New York Times, Pittsburgh Gazette, and Philadelphia Inquirer. The archives of other universities were also utilized with the assistance of the archivists working there. There has also been a great deal of research and facts about other women competing on men’s teams and at other universities across the country. Although Dorothy Anderson was not the only person to compete on a men’s varsity team, she was one of the earliest to do so, with only a few athletes coming before her. Through her success on the tennis court, Dorothy Anderson was able to thrive and pave the way for women across the university. Further, she was able to alter traditional views of women in sport based upon her successful performances and poise on the tennis court while playing men. This change extended beyond just Penn State to other universities, especially ones that she played at and in which she caused controversy. Intriguingly, Penn State men’s tennis coach, Dink Stover, recruited her for the squad. The paper, as a whole, will give a background on women’s sport and athletics and the development of the views on women in sport. It then delves into some of the history around women’s sport in the Big Ten to give a bit further background. After that, the paper looks at women across the country that have competed on men’s teams before the passing of Title IX. Finally, the paper arrives at Dorothy Anderson – the center of the paper. Though she was not the only woman to compete on a men’s team, she was one of very few, and she was one that was very successful. Dorothy Anderson, through her success playing against men at the varsity level, had an impact on views of women in sport, especially in the Penn State community. Through her nearly perfect season, she was able to show that women are able to compete with men and deserve a chance to compete, even nearly forty years before the passing of Title IX. Still, it took nearly three decades for Penn State to create a varsity women’s tennis team. Anderson’s career opens windows into how women challenged male domination of intercollegiate sport and reveals that even highly successful pioneering efforts did not bear fruit until many decades of struggle had transpired.