Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Ladies Do Not Curl

“Ladies do not curl – on the ice. The Rational Dress Association has not yet secured for them the freedom that is necessary to fling the channel-stane, and like Her Majesty at Scone, the majority find the curling-stones too heavy for their delicate arms…”

Although acknowledging that to this sweeping generalisation there were exceptions which he went on to detail in a long footnote the Rev. John Kerr was, I suppose, merely reiterating the view of middle-class society towards the end of the nineteenth century that ladies were not designed for sport.

His reference to 'Her Majesty' was to that demonstration of the game in Scone Palace well recorded in the Annual for 1843; “Her Majesty inquired particularly respecting the game of curling, and with a view to illustrate the explanations that were given to Her Majesty by Lord Mansfield, [the owner of the Palace and president of the Grand Caledonian Curling Club], the polished oaken floor of the room was summarily converted into a 'rink', and the stones were sent 'roaring' along its smooth and even surface. And we have reason to know that Her Majesty herself 'tried her hand' at throwing the stones, although they proved to be too heavy for her delicate arm…”

Nonetheless a pair of splendid Ailsa Craig stones with appropriately inscribed solid silver handles was presented to Prince Albert, who readily agreed to become the club’s royal patron, leading to the inconvenient name of the Royal Grand Caledonian Curling Club.

I had until recently thought that when John Kerr referred to the Rational Dress Association he was inventing a title for a non-existent movement. However, the wonders of the internet soon showed that I was wrong. There was a Rational Dress Association which published a catalogue in 1883. The three sketches below show ideas of how ladies might dress for different sport. Sadly the catalogue had no proposals for curling.

The sketch of the Countess of Eglinton and her ladies at play (above) on one of the several curling ponds at Eglinton in Ayrshire in 1860 not only adds yet another exception to the rule but shows how inappropriate was the dress in which the fair sex took to the ice.

David B Smith.

Captions: Top - Countess of Eglinton and her ladies, 1860. Middle - Prince Albert’s stones, 1842. Below - Alpine climbing costume. Skating dress. Ladies’ cricketing dress. (All from this web page)

1 comment:

Andrea said...

Fun article.
The Rational Dress Association would have been dismayed by the knee-length woolen kilts my rink wore for high-school varsity curling.
Andrea in Canada
p.s. But I admit those rocks are kind of heavy for my delicate arms.