Participation in the tournament has varied through the eight competitions: fifteen different teams have played, but only Australia, England and New Zealand have appeared in every tournament. India have appeared in all but two of the competitions. Jamaica, Trinidad and Tobago and Young England have all appeared in just one tournament: in each case, the first competition, in 1973.
Women's international cricket was first played in 1934, when a party from England toured Australia and New Zealand. The first Test match was played on 28–31 December 1934, and was won by England. The first Test against New Zealand followed early the following year. These three nations remained the only Test playing teams in women's cricket until 1960, when South Africa played a number of matches against England.Limited overs cricket was first played by first-class teams in England in 1962. Nine years later, the first international one day match was played in men's cricket, when England took on Australia at the Melbourne Cricket Ground.
Talks began in 1971 about holding a World Cup for women's cricket, led by Jack Hayward. South Africa, under pressure from the world for their apartheid laws, were not invited to take part in the competition. Both of the other two Test playing nations, Australia and New Zealand were invited. Hayward had previously organised tours of the West Indies by England women, and it was from this region that the other two competing nations were drawn; Jamaica and Trinidad & Tobago. To make up the numbers, England also fielded a "Young England" team, and an "International XI" was also included. Five South Africans were invited to play for the International XI as a means of compensation for the team not being invited, but these invitations were later withdrawn.
The inaugural tournament was held at a variety of venues across England in June and July 1973, two years before the first men's Cricket World Cup was played. The competition was played as a round-robin tournament, and the last scheduled match was England against Australia. Australia went into the game leading the table by a solitary point: they had won four matches and had one abandoned. England had also won four matches, but they had lost to New Zealand. As a result, the match also served as a de facto final for the competition. England won the match, held at Edgbaston, Birmingham by 92 runs to win the tournament.