The items in this online exhibition evoke the stories of American women through the ages.
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Edith Hall Plimpton’s gymnasium suit, 1896

Photo by Kevin Grady/Radcliffe Institute

Photo by Kevin Grady/Radcliffe Institute


This gymnasium dress was worn for basketball and gymnastics at Radcliffe College by Edith Hall Plimpton, Class of 1896, and donated by her daughter Elizabeth Wright Plimpton ’29. Her black wool outfit emphasized coverage, from the chin-to-waist buttons on the bodice to the full sleeves ending in tight cuffs and the voluminous “divided skirt” that concealed every body contour.

This gymnasium dress is a powerful document in the College’s history. Early emphasis on physical activity at Radcliffe and other women’s colleges was a retort to the popular arguments of a male Harvard Medical School professor who warned that serious study might damage young women’s reproductive capacities. Advocates for women’s education replied with vigorous health and fitness regimens.

Edith Hall Plimpton Papers, Schlesinger Library

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Learn more:

Learn more about Radcliffe College by exploring the Radcliffe College Archives at the Library.

Explore the Schlesinger Library's exhibit It's Complicated: 375 Years of Women at Harvard.

Read about the Schlesinger Library's exhibit Playing Fair? Title IX at 45.

See the Schlesinger Library's research guides on fashion and on sports.

View videos of the Radcliffe Institute's 2017 conference, "Game Changers: Sports, Gender, and Society":

Heather Min