'Lady Skaters' And The Rough Pleasures Of Roller Derby

"It is a teeth-jarring sport for skaters who race 30 miles every night," LIFE magazine wrote of the then-young spectacle of roller derby in December 1948. The scene, LIFE noted, features "enough spills and body contact to gratify even an ice hockey fan."

Leaving aside the question of why any sport in which violence plays even a small role is inevitably compared to hockey, we'll instead focus on the oddity of George Skadding, of all people, making these photographs. Known primarily as a chronicler of politics and presidents — before and after World War II, he was an officer of the White House News Photographers Association — Skadding immersed himself in this particular assignment. But why? Maybe the open aggression of the sport was a tonic after years of covering the smoke-filled rooms, wheelings, dealings and backstabbings for which Washington is famous. Whatever the reason, Skadding certainly captured something of the visceral pleasure the sport offers its spectators.

[See more of Skadding's pictures of women roller skaters at LIFE.com.]


"The rules [of roller derby] appear to have been cribbed from six-day bike racing and professional wrestling," wrote LIFE. "Audiences have already learned to hiss the sport's more clumsy villains, but lady skaters are not ostracized when they kick one another in the face."

If that's not an endorsement for wholesome family entertainment, what the hell is?

Ben Cosgrove is the editor of LIFE.com. Picture This is his weekly (and occasionally more frequent) feature for The Stacks.

Photo Credit: George Skadding—The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images