Women are known to have played the game in the 19th century. Several games were recorded in the 1890s in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. The women of Lord Stanley's family were known to participate in the game of ice hockey on the outdoor ice rink at Rideau Hall, the residence of Canada's Governor-General.
The game developed at first without an organizing body. A tournament in 1902 between Montreal and Trois-Rivieres was billed as the first championship tournament. Several tournaments, such as at the Banff Winter Carnival, were held in the early 20th Century and numerous women's teams such as the Seattle Vamps and Vancouver Amazons existed. Organizations started to develop in the 1920s, such as the Ladies Ontario Hockey Association, and later, the Dominion Women's Amateur Hockey Association. Starting in the 1960s, the game spread to universities. Today, the game is played from youth through adult leagues, and in the universities of North America and internationally. There are two major women's hockey leagues, the National Women's Hockey League with teams in the Northeastern United States which is a professional league and the Canadian Women's Hockey League with teams in Canada and the United States, which is semi-professional and is developing toward becoming a fully professional league.
The first women's world championship tournament, albeit unofficial, was held in 1987 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. This was followed by the first IIHF World Championship in 1990 in Ottawa. Women's ice hockey was added as a medal sport at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. The United States won the gold, Canada won the silver and Finland won the bronze medal.
The United States Hockey League (USHL) welcomed the first female professional hockey player in 1969–70, when the Marquette Iron Rangers signed Karen Koch. One woman, Manon Rhéaume, has played in the NHL, as a goaltender for the Tampa Bay Lightning in pre-season games against the St. Louis Blues and the Boston Bruins. In 2003, Hayley Wickenheiser played with the Kirkkonummi Salamat in the Finnish men's Suomi-sarja league. Several women have competed in North American minor leagues, including Rhéaume, goaltenders Kelly Dyer and Erin Whitten and defenceman Angela Ruggiero.