Leslie Heaphy / Negro Leagues, Ladies Leagues & Latin America
by Leslie Heaphy
Developed in the late nineteenth century, bloomer girl teams gave women the chance to play the game of baseball. While baseball at the time was primarily a man's sport there were a number of colleges that hosted women's teams such as Vassar and Smith. For others the only option became the Bloomer teams. Many of these early squads had two men on the team, often the pitcher and the catcher. The significance of these teams comes from the fact that they allowed women to participate in a man's sport and world. This was happening at a time when the general feeling was women were physically inferior and had no business out in the public world. Their realm focused on home and hearth.
Bloomer girl teams appeared across the country. The name was used in Chicago and New York and all points in between. The origin of the name is tied to suffragette Adelaide Jenks Bloomer and not the pants that bore that name. These teams played all comers as they barnstormed across the United States. Their opponent one night might be an amateur club while the next it would semi-pro. This was the reason many promoters brought in men to play with the ladies. This made the games more competitive when they had a topper or two. Topper was the title attached to male players who wore curly wigs atop their own hair.
Some of the best known teams played throughout the 1980s and early 20th century. The Boston Herald carried an account of a 1903 game that starred Maud Nelson. Nelson became one of the most famous of the female players, renowned for her hitting, fielding and pitching. The Chicago Bloomer girls received coverage in Cincinnati, New York, Boston and Chicago as they traveled the country. In 1905 their manager announced the team would be taking a two-year world tour to such places as Australia and Cuba. Whether they did or not is unclear because no accounts of any games have been uncovered.
These early teams helped lay the foundation for the later development of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). The AAGPBL of the 1940s and 1950s gave women role models and ideas about what was possible. Though none of these ventures continued permanently the Bloomer Girls showed that it was possible for women to play baseball, a man's sport, and to play it well.
For further Research
Berlage, Gai. Women in Baseball. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1994.
Gregorich, Barbara. Women at Play. New York; Harcourt, Brace and Co., 1993.
Kent State University, Stark Campus