Most know that lacrosse was invented by the American Indians, a sport played to the death between tribes to settle disputes or toughen warriors for battle. The game was played by as many as 1,000 men and lasted two to three days. It dates back to the 15th century and was spread to other cultures in the 18th century when settlers in Montreal began playing the sport. From Canada the sport spread throughout the world to England and Australia. However, the game of old is much different than the game that we all know and play today, not only the differences in positions and rules, but also the differences between the men’s and women’s game. So how did the women’s game evolve from this male dominated sport that originated to resolve conflict?
The first recorded game of women’s Lacrosse, named because of the sticks resemblance to a Bishops crosier, was played in Scotland at St. Leonards in the spring of 1890. The first headmistress of the school, Miss Louisa Lumsden, had the opportunity to visit New Hampshire in September of 1884, where she saw a match played between the Canghuwaya Indians and the Montreal Club. In a diary entry Miss Lumsden said, “It is a wonderful game, beautiful and graceful. (I was so charmed with it that I introduced it to St. Leonards)”.
Once the sport arrived in Scotland and was adopted by the young women, an inter-dormitory competition began, in which the winners would be awarded a shield in victory. These “house matches” were first reported in the June 1890 issue of the “St. Leonards Gazette”. Some comentary and rules were reported as follows:
Whether the game on the whole has proved successful may be doubted but at least we have advanced so far in its mysteries as to get a good and exiting game in the field with teams of eight and they last one hour not including a ten minute interval in the middle. After which goals were changed… the game was close and fast but the play rather wild and far too much on the ground
Both the equipment and the number and position of players on the field has changed a great deal since this time in our history. The sticks of our ancestors had very large nets, no bridge, short handles and they were made of that ancient material called wood. These are similar to the sticks on display at the US Lacrosse Museum on the campus of Johns Hopkins. The positions evolved from teams of eight in 1890 to ten in the earlier part of the Twentieth Century to 12 after 1913. The fields of ten included all of the positions we know today except 3rd home and 3rd person.
From St. Leonards lacrosse spread throughout Great Britain and was brought back to the United States by Rosabelle Sinclair who became the athletic director at Bryn Mawr School in Baltimore in 1926. From this point women’s lacrosse has evolved sporadically to get to the point that it is today… an aerial game of finesse and speed that far exceeds all other sports of today.