Etching on vellum paper
Deposit from the Museum of Franco-American cooperation, château of Blérancourt, 1977
On this etching, a woman is about to shoot an arrow with a straight bow. Behind her we can see a target, as well as a woman with a umbrella talking to an archer at rest. Her costume is characteristic of women’s fashion of 1864-1865: the skirt, supported by a crinoline, is quite voluminous whereas the top part of her outfit is close-fitting with a very curvy bust and a low shoulder line. Apart from her bow, several archery accessories are visible: her shooting hand is protected by a three-finger glove, and her forearm is protected by an arm guard. She wears a belt around her waist to carry other accessories. This was common practice among female archers who, contrary to men, had very few pockets on their outfits. A strap system is attached to the belt to weight the skirt and make the shot easier. A full quiver and a feather duster for the arrowheads are also visible.
Women and archery
In traditional European societies, it was uncommon for women to partake in physical activities, even more so when it meant handling weapons, which were often seen as belonging to the male sphere. Exertion in the name of fun was tolerated but then too, only for a few garden-centered activities.
Social transformations during the 19th century lead to the emergence of the wealthy bourgeoisie, and with it the birth of new values and lifestyles that spread to the rest of society throughout the century. Women often stayed at home or in Salons where they were expected to dazzle. However, they were beginning to be associated more and more with leisure activities, signs of social distinction because of the expenditure of time and the need for space. This fashion from England allowed them to practice hunting or archery, seen as recreational and set in the countryside, in the periphery of big cities. It has been said that the Empress Eugenie enjoyed shooting with a crossbow in the gardens of the Imperial Palace in Compiègne.
Women have been present at the Olympic Games since the London Games in 1908. Several female archers have left their mark, such as Irène Cruypenninck, World champion and multiple medalist from Crépy-en-Valois. Currently, the French women's’ team is present on international podiums even if the Federation is still trying to increase the percentage of women among club members.