Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository


Doctor of Philosophy




Kevin Bruce Wamsley

2nd Supervisor

Michael Heine

Joint Supervisor


This dissertation presents a two-part study of sporting practices of Southern Ontario Black women, between the 1920s and the 1940s, aimed at developing a socio-cultural history of sport that includes narratives from marginalized groups. Given sport’s traditional position as a masculine domain, as well as Canada’s status as a patriarchal White supremacy, the accounts presented in this work centre Black women’s sport experiences through an intersectional perspective. It is argued that, by virtue of their simultaneously racialized and gendered identities, Black women had distinct sporting experiences from those of White women and men and Black men.

The first study used archived oral histories of a group of Black women who lived across Southern Ontario to document a range of activities which located women in sporting spaces. These women were not just athletes, but also coaches, umpires, and spectators. Also, men and boys were influential in these practices, often introducing women to sport. Still, for many, participation in youth gave way to being in the stands in adulthood. These narratives demonstrate the influence of gender norms and racial identity on women’s sporting experiences.

The second study focused on Jean Lowe, a champion Toronto track and field athlete in the late 1930s and 1940s who also played softball and basketball. The main source of evidence was the record of Lowe’s performance through two widely circulated newspapers: Toronto’s Globe and Mail and Daily Star. The media often praised Lowe, and her narrative denotes a Black woman’s ascent and integration in a White-dominated community. But, her seemingly unproblematic athletic career, as well as her qualification as representing an image of pulchritude, stand in sharp contrast with her sustained designation as “dusky,” her frequent inclusion into discussions of the ‘Black athlete’s’ threatening rise, and her permanent departure from the city in the mid-1940s. Lowe’s story underscores the reticulation of ‘acceptance’ and Othering that historically characterized Canadian racial relations. Through both the oral histories and the media, it is found that insidious notions of race and gender remained embedded in some Black women’s sport experiences, even as sport expanded and shifted the lens through which society viewed them.