History and Origins of Women’s Baseball: Part 1

The idea of playing any kind of sports immediately brings up images of men running on the field and yelling at each other if they did not score. However, when we think about women in sports, we might think of something more feminine like dancing or synchronized swimming. In the US the perspective about women in sports changed with the beginning of baseball. While many of today’s teams feature both female and male players, this hasn’t always been the case.

The great American sport that gathers thousands of people together to cheer for their favorite team has been almost exclusively seen as a male sport. However, the history of female baseball begs to differ. According to sports historians, women have played baseball in Minnesota for over 100 years. One can track down the evidence of women playing baseball in the US back to as early as 1893. The proof of this is a photograph of ten female players and two male player-managers. Attached with the photo, historians have found the note saying, “Thief River Falls Ladies Baseball Team Champions of Northern League, 1893.”

Historians speculated based on the note, that one could assume there were multiple female baseball teams playing the sports even before that photo was taken. Baseball historians Gai Berlage, Harold Seymour, and others discovered that women started playing baseball actively since 1865 at Vassar College, which still is a functioning college in the New York area. On the photo with the Thief River Falls Ladies Baseball Team, all the female players were dressed in the same type of clothing. They were all wearing long dresses with long sleeves, which meant that they were following the fashion of those times – the Victorian standard of feminine modesty.

Baseball

The rise of the female baseball team did not limit itself to the Minnesota area alone. At the beginning of the twentieth century, a lot of female teams were playing baseball, also known as ‘hardball’, at elite colleges for women on the East Coast of the US. Slowly, but surely, the game has moved to coeducational institutions in the Midwest. Even though more and more institutions around the US were open to the idea of young females playing what was believed to be a male-only game, there was still a lot of caution around the game.

In 1906, one of the articles at the University of Minnesota announced the beginning of the women’s baseball season. Since baseball is an outdoor sport that requires a rather large field, the girls had to share the field with the male players. However, the article highlights that girls had to hide while practicing the game, so they would not distract male’s attention. With this issue, the female baseball team decided to move the game inside of the gymnasium. Moving the game indoor marked the beginning of softball, another sport that was popular among female players in the 1920s. With the rise of baseball, a lot has changed over the years for the young women in sports; however, it was a rough start for females to be fighting for their place on the diamond field.

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