Emily Valentine – the first lady of rugby

‘Omnes Honorate’ or ‘Honour all men’ is the school motto of Portora Royal School for Boys, in Ennsikillen, Northern Ireland. However ‘with a fine disregard for the rules’ 10 year old Emily Valentine did precisely the opposite and convinced the boys to let her join in a game of rugby back in 1887.

During the game, in which she scored a try, Emily realised her girlhood ambition, recording her experience in her memoirs several years later.

Emily Valentine's memoir pp EDITED

BBC Northern Ireland produced thier own re-enactment of Emily’s try in 2010. Since then it has been discovered that Emily wasn’t quite the first female rugby player. In 1881 a series of international exhibition football matches, between female sides representing England and Scotland, were reported in several local newspapers. A reference to ‘touch-downs’ in the Liverpool Mercury suggests that at least one of these games was played according to the rules of rugby football.

The World Rugby Museum would like to thank John Birch, BBC Northern Ireland and scrumqueens.com for their contributions to this piece.

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3 Responses to Emily Valentine – the first lady of rugby

  1. johnlbirch says:

    Well, as the person who uncovered both of the above facts for ScrumQueens I would say Emily still is the first – at least she is unquestionably the first identifiable female unequivocally playing rugby.

    The 1881 tour was, in all other reported games, played to Association Football rules. In 1881 these had only recently lost “touchdowns”, so its very possible – indeed probable – that they were playing to Association rules, but the journalist was a bit behind the times. It is always possible that other females played rugby in some way before 1887 – we will never know.

    And at least with Emily women’s rugby has a founding figure who actually did run with the ball in contravention of the rules (in this case playing with boys!) which is more than can be said for the men’s game!


  2. johnlbirch says:

    To add to the above, the 1863 Association Football rules said: “In case the ball goes behind the goal line, … If a player of the opposite side first touches the ball, one of his side shall be entitled to a free kick (but at the goal only) from a point 15 yds. from the goal line opposite the place where the ball is touched; the opposing side shall stand behind their goal line until he has had his kick.” This rules was still in place in the 1870s, eventually evolving into the corner kick. In 1881 it is very possible that some games would still use this rule.


  3. Pingback: Happy Blogiversary! | World Rugby Museum: from the vaults

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