Women's hockey developed separately from men's hockey. Women do not seem to have played hockey widely before the modern era. Women's hockey was first played at British Universities and schools, and the first club, Molesey Ladies Hockey Club, was founded in 1887. The first national association was the Irish Ladies Hockey Union in 1894, and though rebuffed by the Hockey Association, women's hockey grew rapidly around the world. This led to the formation of the International Federation of Women's Hockey Associations (IFWHA) in 1927, though this did not include initially many continental European countries where women played as sections of men's associations and were affiliated to the FIH. The IFWHA held conferences every three years, and the tournaments associated with these were the primary IFWHA competitions. These tournaments were non-competitive until 1975.
By the early 1970s there were 22 associations with women's sections in the FIH and 36 associations in the IFWHA. Discussions were started about a common rule book. The FIH introduced competitive tournaments in 1974, forcing the acceptance of the principle of competitive hockey by the IFWHA in 1973. It took until 1982 for the two bodies to merge, but this allowed the introduction of women's hockey to the 1980 Olympic Games, where, as in the men's game, Australia, Germany, and the Netherlands have been consistently strong.