Bowling was quite the popular activity by 1966. 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.
Salt Lake City hosted its own bowling alley as early as 1871. The Pioneer Bowling Saloon, located on 200 South Street, 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 always supplied with the finest Ales, Porters, Lagers, and genuine Havana Cigars.
In fact, bowling was seen as such the low-level activity that in 1872, Brigham Young condemned bowling alleys and gin mills as a consequence of “ungodly Gentiles” moving into the area.
By 1906, Salt Lake City boasted two women 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 women.
Despite this, bowling became more and more popular among women. Crown Bowling Parlor located at 32 West 300 South in Salt Lake City, 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. That same year, 40 women from 11 cities gathered in a bowling parlor in St. Louis to form the Woman’s International Bowling Congress (WIBC), which in 2005 merged with other organizations to form the United States Bowling Congress (USBC).
By 1935, women’s bowling clubs became popular in Salt Lake City. City leagues and YWMC clubs were organized form women and girls and were advertised as an “ideal recreation with enough competition to make it more than just exercise.” On a national level in the same year, the WIBC numbered 15,000 members and by 1950 membership soared to nearly 500,000 members.
- Salt Lake Tribune 1871 November 23
- Salt Lake Tribune 1872 May 8
- Salt Lake Tribune 1906 January 15
- Salt Lake Tribune 1935 October 20
- Salt Lake Tribune 1966 December 15