Bobbi Knapp

March 26, 2024

SIU prof seeks info, artifacts about university’s history with women’s college sports

by Christi Mathis

CARBONDALE, Ill. — As Southern Illinois University Carbondale celebrates Women’s History Month, a sports studies professor is gathering information and photos to chronicle the university’s groundbreaking role in women’s college athletics.

Bobbi Knapp, associate professor of sport studies with a cross appointment in women, gender and sexuality studies, said SIU, its women’s athletics administrations and women’s coaches have a strong connection to the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW). She also noted that some female Salukis have played vital roles in the establishment and success of SIU, women’s athletics and more.

Knapp is compiling a historical record of women’s sports pioneers Dorothy Davies and Charlotte West, the Physical Education for Women Department (where women’s athletics originated at SIU), and the Women’s Intercollegiate Athletics Department (which was also housed at Davies Hall).

“We know there are probably a lot of records and information people have lying around, and we would like to gather it in one place before it becomes lost or forgotten,” Knapp said. “SIU, Dorothy Davies, Dr. West, and other faculty and coaches have been extraordinary trailblazers in women’s athletics, and we want to fully document these women and their efforts and contributions for future generations to appreciate.”

Charlotte West

Charlotte-West-1-sm.jpgOne artifact Knapp has is the certificate of SIU’s charter membership of the AIAW in 1971, given to her by Charlotte West, who helped organize the AIAW and became its president in 1978. Several other SIU instructors and coaches were also selected for AIAW positions, and SIU won several of the organization’s national championships and hosted a national championship event.

During her 42-year SIU athletics career, West advanced women in sports on campus and nationally to unheard of levels. An athlete herself, West coached volleyball, basketball, softball, golf, swimming and badminton and served in numerous national roles, including six years on the NCAA Council. The first woman on the National Association for Collegiate Directors of Athletics, she served as a consultant to the federal government for Title IX and was SIU’s first female athletic director.

Dorothy Davies

dorothy-davies-crop.webpDavies Hall, which will be 100 years old in 2025, is named for Dorothy Davies, a 35-year teacher, coach and administrator and founder of women’s college athletics at SIU.

One of the nation’s most respected physical educators and a 1982 Saluki Hall of Fame member (the first class that included women), she coached field hockey, basketball, softball and tennis in addition to teaching. The building bearing her name since her retirement in 1974 is one of the original eight structures comprising “Old Campus.” The state legislature appropriated $60,000 to build the edifice in 1895, and Davies Hall included a museum, gymnasium and society halls.

Physical education

Physical education was one of the original programs on campus and is celebrating its 150th birthday in 2024.

Two years ago, the physical education bachelor’s degree for men marked its 90th anniversary, and 2022 was also the 70th anniversary of the PE master’s degree for men and women. In 2025, women will celebrate the 45th anniversary for their PE bachelor’s degree, and it’s also year 45 since the men’s and women’s programs combined. 

Contact Knapp

Knapp asks anyone with any information, photographs or other artifacts to contact her at

Knapp said she’ll also use some of what she collects to create informational graphics and is working with the SIU Foundation on a future fundraising campaign to renovate Davis Hall.