10 January 2021

Bowling Was Once Scandalous Behavior for Women

Women bowling, ca 1900, NYC,
George Eastman Museum, from Wikimedia
Bowling was at its height of popularity in the 1960s and both men and women actively participated and competed for trophies. But the history of women’s bowling predates the 1960s by more than 80 years. Rare old photos document scenes of women bowling as early as the 1880s.

SLC hosted its own bowling alley as early as 1871. The Pioneer Bowling Saloon, located on 200 South, advertised itself as the “only full-length alley in the territory.” However, it was not open to women as it was a Gentlemen’s Club with a bar and always supplied the finest beers and Havana cigars.

Bowling was such a low-level activity that in 1872, Brigham Young condemned bowling alleys and gin mills as a consequence of “ungodly Gentiles” moving into Utah.

By 1906, Salt Lake City boasted 2 women’s bowling teams. Women bowled in ankle-length dresses with tight lace collars and wrist-length sleeves. Despite these modest clothes, women sometimes still risked their reputation if they bowled as it was still not seen as a wholesome activity befitting “proper” young woman.

Despite this, bowling became more and more popular among women. Crown Bowling Parlor located at 32 West 300 South SLC, in particular, encouraged patronage from women offering private alleys for ladies and clubs.

The first women’s national bowling tournament was held in St. Louis in 1916. Eight teams entered the tournament, competing for $225 in prize money.

By 1935, women’s bowling clubs became popular in SLC. City leagues and YWMC clubs were organized for women and girls and were advertised as an “ideal recreation with enough competition to make it more than just exercise.”

Sources: SL Trib 1871-11-23; 1872-05-08; 1906-01-15; 1935-10-20; 1966-12-15

Utah woman bowling, early 1900s from UDSH.

Utah women’s bowling team 1952, from UDSH.

Salt Lake Tribune 1871-11-23

 Deseret News 1906-01-15

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