Harvey Frommer / Ladies Leagues
Old Time Baseball IV: Women and Baseball
by Harvey Frommer
Almost from the start, women and baseball were part of the scene. At picnics and social gatherings, with friends and family, women in full Victorian dress played the game, running the bases, fielding grounds, taking their turns at bat.
It was felt that the rowdiness of the sport - fights among fans, cat-calling and throwing objects--even violence towards players and umpires could be lessened with the presence of women. Teams set up tents and refreshments for female fans. Admission was often free of charge to local games. Ladies Day, a late 19th century promotion, came into being. It was designed to attract women fans to baseball, to help increase attendance, quell the fervor of the sometimes unruly crowds.
There were women who opted for the right to play the game under organized conditions. Vassar College, seeking more exercise outlets for women, formed recreational teams in the 1860s. Soon other colleges did the same. None of these teams lasted, however, because these colleges bowed to the pressures of disapproving mothers and sexist men. The teams were disbanded.
In 1880,women at Smith College attempted to create a program of organized baseball teams. The same negativity was in play. Teams were unable to come into existence.
Womens touring teams, however, did attract a following. Showmen with an entrepreneurial feel organized womens teams as barnstorming novelty acts across America. The Springfield ( Illinois) Blondes and Brunettes was reportedly the first team out there. It went out of business after four games. The sexism of the day was on display with comments like "a revolting exhibition of impropriety." Promoters in Philadelphia fielded two teams in 1883 - the Red Stockings and the Blue Stockings. Free admission and the novelty of it all drew more than 500 women spectators for a match in Camden, New Jersey. Afterwards admission for women was 15 cents - they got in for childrens price.
By the 1890s, women's teams, sometimes described as "bloomer girls," played across the country. One Reading, Pennsylvania mens team even fielded a woman pitcher to boost attendance. Even though she pitched only part of the ninth inning, the local paper commented, " For a woman, she is a success."
Sadly, sexism against women participating in organized baseball was part of the cultural milieu. On March 12 ,1892, a bill before the New York State Assembly sought "To prohibit the employment of females as baseball players."
And so it went, but better times were ahead for baseball and especially for women who one day would have a league of their own.