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Girls Basketball team, Deerfield Academy
(c) Pocumtuck Valley Memorial Association, Deerfield MA. All rights reserved.
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The average size of the American family shrunk throughout the 19th century as many upper and middle class couples had fewer and fewer children. Social reformers found the declining birth rate among the established "native" Anglo-Saxon families alarming. New waves of southern and eastern European immigrants arriving with large families and high birth rates were thought to be a threat to the American "race." Reasoning that healthy young women would produce larger families, high schools and academies began introducing athletic activities for girls. By the 1860s, female students could participate in calisthenics, tennis, badminton and croquet. Additional offerings in the 1890s included basketball, swimming, cycling and some track and field. School athletic activities largely benefited upper and middle-class girls like these in a 1904 photograph of the Deerfield Academy Girls Basketball team in Deerfield, Massachusetts; few working class families could send girls to school beyond the early elementary grades.
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