Looking Back at The Humble Beginnings of UConn Women’s Basketball

By Nick Hurley, Research Services Assistant

Team photo, CAC Women’s Basketball, 1902 Season. Pictured are Coach Steve Crowell and chaperone Mrs. Stimson. Players included Grace Koons and team captain Marjorie Monteith

With March Madness in full swing, and UConn’s top-ranked, undefeated women’s basketball team set to take on Mississippi State tomorrow in Bridgeport, it seems appropriate to share this photograph of their predecessors, who enjoyed similar success during their first season in 1902.

Basketball came to UConn (then known as the Connecticut Agricultural College) in 1901, with the formation of a provisional men’s team under the direction of Athletics Professor T.D. Knowles. After winning their first game against Willimantic High School, a permanent team was organized for the following 1901-02 season. Many female students, according to the school newspaper (The Lookout, predecessor to the Daily Campus), “took enough interest in the boys in the blue and white jerseys to accompany them to Willimantic and to cheer lustily during the entire game,” though they wouldn’t remain on the sidelines for long. By March 1902 The Lookout reported that “there has appeared a new feature in our athletics, a basketball team, made up and well made up from the young ladies of Grove Cottage.”

Under the supervision of Mrs. Stimson (then-President Stimson’s wife), the girls played their first game on March 8th, 1902 against Willimantic High School in the College Hall on campus (presumably the building referred to as “Old Main”, which held administrative offices, classrooms, and the library, along with other meeting and recreation spaces.) The game kicked off at 2:30pm, with the first basket made soon after by Grace Koons—the daughter of CAC’s former president Benjamin Koons, for whom Koons Hall is named. This was followed soon after by another from Marjorie Montheith, daughter of popular professor Henry R. Monteith, the namesake for the Monteith Building. The final score? CAC: 15, WHS: 6.

The team went on to win their second game as well, also against Willimantic, making them undefeated in their first season. Like the men’s team, the experiment had been a success, and the women returned the next year alongside their male counterparts. From these humble beginnings came the powerhouse teams we know today, who have racked up countless NCAA Championship wins and other accolades.

More information on the history of basketball at UConn can be found in the holdings here at Archives & Special Collections. The University of Connecticut Photograph Collection contains numerous images of both teams throughout the years (as well as other sports), and the University of Connecticut, Women’s Basketball Perfect Season Collection includes publications, posters, and memorabilia related to the perfect seasons enjoyed by the Women’s team between 1994 and 2003. A number of basketball-specific images can also be found in our digital repository. 


One thought on “Looking Back at The Humble Beginnings of UConn Women’s Basketball

  1. Is there a web site where I can retrieve films of past UConn Womens’ games? I would like to review a particular game against North Carolina at home sometime in the 90’s (at least I think it was in the 90s). Both teams were highly ranked and they beat us in a close, hard fought game, largely through the efforts of a feisty and very good point guard that was their key player. As I remember it, she received a standing ovation from the Connecticut fans after the game, as she stood on the floor trying to figure out why the home audience was applauding after their team had lost.

    I have never heard the incident spoken of since then, and I think of it often. It is one of my favorite sports memories. You don’t often see such fan respect demonstrated for an opponent. It made me realize the great respect that Connecticut fans feel for the game of basketball, and that respect is always reflected in the way Geno’s teams conduct themselves, win or lose.

    I don’t know who televised the games, then. I don’t think it was PBS or ESPN, but it might have been. Does the school retain archives of games that were telecasted that I could look through?

    I would appreciate any guidance you could give me. Thanks. Gene OLeary 203 453 4864

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