100-Year Sunday Story: Women Archers of the YWCA

Archery has been around since the first civilizations back in the Paleolithic period. While it was intended for fighting and hunting, the bow and arrow eventually morphed into a tool for leisure and hobby. Beginning in 1800, archery was seen as a sport and a means of friendly competition. However, the world of archery was mainly reserved for men as it was still used as a form of weapon for war.

In the 1900 Olympic games, archery was included as a sport for the first time; this was the same year women were first allowed to participate. While women were allowed to compete alongside the men, they were limited to a selection of four sports – tennis, sailing, croquet, and golf. Four years later, in the 1904 Olympics, archery was added to the sports that women could choose from.

Archery has been a staple of the YWCA summer camp experience since the beginning. Whether it be lessons or tournaments, campers have continuously enjoyed the challenge of the sport. In the early years of Camp Tepeetonka, all campers would participate in an archery tournament, and awards were given to the most skilled archers.

In 1930, archery was no longer limited to the enjoyment of campers. The YWCA of Sioux Falls began offering archery lessons and classes for all ages. Classes started inside in the winter; when the weather got warmer, they moved to the outdoor archery range. These lessons were taught by a certified female instructor who would teach members the ins and outs of the weapon.

Three Young women shooting archery outside

In 1932, the YWCA introduced the archery club for members who no longer needed instruction but still wanted to be around fellow archers. The club was one of the most popular sports clubs, and for most of the 1930s, the YWCA had to offer two separate sessions. Archery became so popular that all health and education classes of the YWCA participated in weekly archery lessons.

One of the most exciting aspects of being a YWCA archer was competing with other archery organizations. In 1941, the YWCA Sports Club competed against the Girls Athletic Association of Washington High School and the Augustana Women’s Athletic Association in an archery tournament. The competition lasted an entire day, and the winners were given awards. This tri-organization tournament also included basketball, tennis, hockey, table tennis, volleyball, shuffleboard, and softball competitions.

Archery is rooted in the making of the YWCA; as a mainly male-dominated sport, it empowers the women who choose to participate. The skill showcases strength and determination in every woman who picks up the bow. All women archers of the YWCA hold to the original values of empowerment and equality.

Archery began to fizzle out of popular culture in the 1950s — with the resurgence of dance as the most popular form of entertainment and exercise. However, archery remains a staple in the Y’s summer and day camps.

Archery may have faded into the past, but women’s empowerment certainly has not. At EmBe, we continue to provide classes and activities, and help all women, regardless of race, economic status, or social class. After a century of empowering women, we ask you to help make our vision for the next 100 years possible by joining our peer-to-peer fundraiser. With your help, we can continue our journey of empowerment and launch into our next chapter! Donate or create a fundraising page here.

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