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The Masculine Origins Of Cheerleading

Vintage Wisconsin: Male Students Were Cheerleaders At Madison's Oldest High School

Wisconsin Historical Images

While we may think of cheerleading as a predominately female sport now, it began as an elite activity for men at Ivy League schools in the late 19th century. Many schools didn’t allow women to join teams until the 1920s.

Stanford University even added cheerleading to its educational curriculum in 1924, a move described in The New York Times as “the attainment of the dream which has always hovered before the eyes of educators – the harmonious and simultaneous training of mind and body.”

Women only started to take over cheerleading during the second World War. Women had first made inroads into cheerleading during World War I as many young men went off to war. There was some effort to push women back out of cheerleading in the 1920s and 1930s when the men returned from war. Some schools went so far as to ban female cheerleaders, but with the outbreak of World War II, women cheerleaders were here to stay.

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The cheerleaders in the image above were students at Dane County’s oldest high school, Madison High School. The school opened in 1853 with 90 students and one, probably crazed, teacher. It became Madison Central High in 1922 with the opening of East High School.

The school closed in 1969 and the 1908 Cass Gillbert-designed building was torn down in 1986. All that remains is the arch on Wisconsin Avenue.

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