Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

The All-American Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL): A Review of Literature and Its Reflection of Gender Issues

Academic journal article Women in Sport & Physical Activity Journal

The All-American Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL): A Review of Literature and Its Reflection of Gender Issues

Article excerpt

Abstract

The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) was the first, and to date, the only women's professional baseball league in United States history. Yet many people are unaware of the league's existence. The purposes of this paper are to (1) review the historical and research literature on the AAGPBL, (2) examine the reflections on gender issues within this literature, and (3) discuss how these issues contributed to the success and failure of the AAGPBL. The published historical documentation and archived artifacts of the AAGPBL are quite

thorough; however, research on the league is limited. Gender issues, such as the female apologetic, marginalization, and feminist reconstruction of sport are evident throughout the league's existence. These issues enhanced the league's success, but also contributed to its demise. The pioneering efforts of the women of the AAGPBL created a new vision of opportunity for girls and women in sport that still resonates today.

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The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) was the first, and to date, the only women's professional baseball league in United States history. The women who played in the league were pioneers in women's sport participation, yet many people have never heard that a women's professional baseball league existed. The purposes of this paper are to (1) review the historical and research literature on the AAGPBL, (2) examine the reflections on gender issues within this literature, and (3) discuss how these issues contributed to the success and failure of the league.

Brief Overview of the AAGPBL

The AAGPBL emerged in 1943 as the brainchild of Philip K. Wrigley in response to the threat of the Major League Baseball season being cancelled due to players being sent to fight in WWII. Although it started as a wartime replacement for major league baseball, what many don't know is that the AAGPBL continued after the conclusion of the war until 1954, when the league folded due to economic difficulties. At the league's peak in 1948, there were 10 teams playing in the mid-sized Midwest cities of Rockford, Peoria, Chicago, and Springfield, IL; Racine and Kenosha, WI; South Bend and Fort Wayne, IN; and Grand Rapids and Muskegon, MI. The AAGPBL drew nearly one million fans during its 12-year run (Berlage, 1994), and gave over 500 women the opportunity to play professional baseball (Pratt, 2001).

Historical Documentation of the AAGPBL

When the league folded in 1954, the players went their separate ways and the story of the league underwent a self-imposed silence for many years. Hensley (1995) suggested several reasons for the silence. Some players left the league and changed their life's direction and goals and therefore did not talk about their experience. Others returned to a support network that had little understanding for or familiarity with the league, so discussion did not occur. Yet others were influenced by the cultural expectations and traditional gender stereotypes that women should not boast about their athletic achievements. For whatever reason, the story of the AAGPBL briefly vanished.

The feminist movement of the 1970s increased interest in women's roles in sport and history, and with it interest in the AAGPBL. Fidler's (1976) master's thesis on the rise and decline of the AAGPBL was one of the first comprehensive historical accounts of the league. Roepke (1986) also produced an early work documenting the league's history that was shorter and less comprehensive, but no less accurate, than Fidler's thesis. Fidler (2006) expanded her thesis into book that currently provides the most thorough and accurate historical documentation of the league.

In the 1990s, several nonfiction books on the league were published. Browne (1992) and Johnson (1994) published books that provide a historical overview of the league mixed with numerous player stories and anecdotes. …

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