And Her Name Was Rugby – Part I

La Barette. I’m not talking about the hair clip or the barretta — the square cap worn by clergy men.

Instead I’m referring to a type of rugby played by women in France in the 1920s. As opposed to 7s, it was 10 players on each side and instead of tackling there was tough blocking.

I’ve found that for women, rugby was played behind “closed doors” in the 19th century and likely in Ireland.1 But it did not surprise me that the lady ruggers, as with most sports predominately played by men, were not met with full support.

However, I was surprised when one night of late searching (read: procrastination) I came across a collection of photos from Frédéric Humbert’s Flikr account and his website — www.rugby-pioneers.com. They captured a time when women in France were playing barette and how society editorialized — perhaps sensationalized — the sport.

With Frédéric’s permission I’ve shared some of those images here with you. And since you’re my captive audience, I’ll also share what I find striking about each image.

Now I realize you’re a busy bunch so I’ve decided to share the images over a couple of days.


Fabien Fabiano “rugby féminin” in Fantasio 1924

Fabiano "rugby féminin" in Fantasio 1924

With the help of Google Translate and my one semester of high school French, I believe the illustration says the following: “‘Press on through the melee,’ shouted the Captain. But as his friend looks she is again a beauty.”

First what an awesome word — melee. “It refers to disorganized close combat involving a group of fighters.”2

To the outsider I’m sure rugby, especially the scrum or ruck, may look disorganized. And I have to wonder if Fabiano is either making fun of our Captain as she is applying lipstick while the other team has won the ball showcasing her as a poor athlete or highlighting a societal view of how women should always strive to be feminine.

Or both.


References

  1. Women’s Rugby Union | Wikpedia
  2. Melee | Wikipedia
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