For many years – until recently, at least, as it seems to be changing now – one area of Muggle sport had always seemed unfair. Why did we never hear about the women’s World Cups as much as the men’s? Or at all, for that matter? Women’s sports have, more often than not, been totally overlooked in the Muggle media, yet in the wizarding world, female members of a sports team are never questioned over their skillset because of their sex.
When you look at the history of Quidditch, as published in Quidditch Through the Ages, the first references to the sport surround a place named Queerditch Marsh (which eventually mutated into the word ‘Quidditch’). While it wasn’t the first sport to be played on broomsticks, it was the one that stuck. And this initial mention of what would become Quidditch was first brought to us by Gertie Keddle, an 11th-century Saxon witch, who provided us with the initial records of the game that was being played over the marsh, with her friend, Gwenog, saying she also often played. Thus Gertie ensured, through her documentation, that the very origins of the biggest sport in the wizarding world can be traced back to a woman.
Of course, witches have always been associated with riding brooms. Hallowe’en costumes traditionally show wizards in their starry, pointed hats and long beards, and witches in rags upon a broom (even within the pages of Quidditch Through the Ages does Kennilworthy Whisp acknowledge that a Muggle representation of a witch, not wizard, is always with a broom). You wouldn’t see Merlin hopping about on a glorified cleaning product.
Centuries later, it was the written word of Madam Modesty Rabnott that recorded the origins of the Golden Snitch. A captured Snidget – a now-protected bird – was released at the game by Chief of the Wizards’ Council, Barberus Bragge, who said that the person who caught the unfortunate creature would receive an extra prize of 150 Galleons (this later became the 150 points contemporary wizards play for). Rabnott didn’t settle for this, however, causing a ruckus at the game by summoning the Snidget to herself to save it. While she did not stop the capture of other Snidgets (until they began to run out, at least), the rule was imposed that one person, then known as the Hunter, would be nominated to catch the creature instead of the masses. Later, witch Elfrida Clagg outlawed the use of the Golden Snidget in the game, resulting in the invention of the Golden Snitch used today.
Therefore, the most prized element of the game of Quidditch was influenced by the actions of two women, and the final piece of the Quidditch puzzle then fell into place.
As time moved on, more women became involved with Quidditch, often surrounding the cataloguing and recording the game. For instance, the knowledge of there being at least 12 different incarnations of the Bludger comes down to Agatha Chubb, an ancient wizarding artefact expert. As the history of Quidditch appears to dictate, the recorded information largely comes from women, so the knowledge that modern wizards have been able to obtain is because of female input. Witch Jocunda Sykes is also attributed as the first person to ever fly over the Atlantic Ocean on a broom in 1935, with wizards previously preferring to take ships across such a distance – which would explain why Newt Scamander travelled that way in Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016). Gladys Boothby was credited with the invention of the Moontrimmer broom, which is regarded as a massive leap forward in terms of broom manufacturing.
Founded in the early 13th century, the Holyhead Harpies are the only team to be solely dedicated to women in the sport and their seven-day win over the Heidelberg Harriers in 1953 is regarded one of the finest wins in the history of the game. Unlike some Muggle sports, Quidditch is usually always played with mixed-gender teams, but the Harpies’ legacy is profound nonetheless. Other great witches from the British and Irish league include Pride of Portree team caption Catriona McCormack, whose daughter also became involved in Quidditch.
But it isn’t just in the wider world of Quidditch that the witches have held all the sway. When you look more closely at Hogwarts’ Quidditch teams throughout the history of the school, for example, you can see that Minerva McGonagall is famed for her love of the sport. Her overruling pride (perhaps what makes her such a devout Gryffindor, reaching the prestigious position of Head of House) sees her always want to overrule Slytherin in the House Cup.
And her drive runs deeper than her adoration of her house. On Pottermore, J.K. Rowling explored the life of Professor McGonagall and her tragic history with the sport. During McGonagall’s final year on the team she was sadly injured – a foul from Slytherin saw her fall from her broom, breaking several bones and ultimately resulting in Gryffindor losing the House Cup – leaving her with an overwhelming desire to see Slytherin crushed on the school Quidditch pitch. This would clearly explain why she was so happy to discover a talented Seeker in Harry.
The most recent example of women ruling the Quidditch field, of course, came in the form of Ginny Weasley. The Weasleys’ only daughter not only took her school team by storm – making it as a reserve Seeker when Harry was banned by Umbridge in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, and later as a full team Chaser – but she went on after the war to join the Holyhead Harpies, the only all-female team in the British league, and later became Quidditch correspondent for the Daily Prophet.
Whisp ends Quidditch Through the Ages as we will, thinking of old Gertie Keddle, and how amazed she would have been to know that those early notes she took chronicled the biggest sport in the wizarding world. What we must add, however, is how she – and others like her – clearly inspired so many great women.