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'The Rockets Ladies Football Club. Danger Building OFCF3', women's football team group portrait


'The Rockets Ladies Football Club. Danger Building OFCF3', women's football team group portrait 1918-19.


Carbon or gelatin silver print, 8¼ x 11¼ inches (20.8 x 28.5 cm.), on mount 14½ x 18 inches (37 x 45.8 cm.), ‘A Portrait by the U.S.A. Studios, London’ printed below, numbered 16516 in pencil on verso, with indistinct annotations.


See J. Hargreaves, Sporting females: critical issues in the history and sociology of women’s sports, pp. 141–42.


A vivid record of women in their wartime life: a team portrait of young sportswomen from a First World War munitions factory in Worcester.

As well as taking on new roles in their working lives during the war, women were stepping into ‘male’ cultural pursuits with vigour. Despite a widespread perception that football was too physical for women, middle- and working-class girls participated, particularly the latter. The nucleus of this new phenomenon was in the North and the Midlands, where matches and leagues were organised for the female workforce of munitions factories and various charities. The enthusiasm with which women played outlasted the war and gave the development of the women’s game in peacetime extra momentum – in 1920 the Dick, Kerr’s Ladies (formed in 1917 from Dick, Kerr & Co., Preston) had become the unofficial English national team, playing (and winning) the first women’s international against France at Deepdale, followed by matches at Stockport, Manchester and Stamford Bridge.

The majority of the sitters have the triangular War Service badge displayed on their ties. The badge, issued solely for women by the Ministry of Munitions in 1916, indicates their participation in vital war work. Men attached their badges with a buttonhole design, but the design of women’s badges were altered to fasten with a pin, like brooches. The acronym OFCF3 suggests these women worked at Government Cartridge Factory No 3, which was in Blackpole, Worcestershire. It began manufacturing .303 cartridges in late 1918 under Kings Norton Metal Co. and ceased production in early 1919.

Perhaps taken on an away-game trip to London, this portrait was photographed in USA studios. John H. Woolfe, who was originally based in Heaton Norris, Stockport, started the studio in 1907 after taking over the American Photographic Company at 34 Upper Street, Islington. By the outbreak of war, Woolfe managed over a dozen studios in London, the suburbs and other towns such as Birmingham and Reading. Woolfe left London soon after the war ended and relocated to Bournemouth, where he died in 1942. The studio continued in Fratton, Portsmouth until 1969.