Academic journal article Base Ball

Disreputable Young Ladies at Play

Academic journal article Base Ball

Disreputable Young Ladies at Play

Article excerpt

It was no coincidence that the first notable baseball club of young ladies took the field in the upstate New York village of Peterboro. The sponsors were well known political figures, committed to the cause of equal rights for women. Gerrit Smith was as radical as he was wealthy, an old friend of Frederick Douglass and John Brown. In the spring of 1851, Smith's daughter, Elizabeth Miller, disgusted with the difficulty of working in the long skirts of the period, had designed a more comfortable outfit, consisting of Turkish trousers beneath a short dress. Her idea was soon adopted by other feminists, including her cousin, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and their friend Amelia Bloomer, who popularized the costume in her magazine, The Lily.1

Conservative commentators of both sexes dismissed the notion of sharing the nation's diamonds with women. A columnist for the Ladies' Repository listed a number of suitable outdoor activities for girls, but stated flatly that "Base Ball would seem so far out of the line of feminine pursuits that nothing need be said of it."2 Mr. Hooper of Appleton's Magazine argued that the National Pastime's "moral influence" was shown by its exclusion of the opposite sex, noting proudly that "while women are soliciting office and demanding the franchise, base ball clubs are only accessible to men."3

The new organization was there to give them the lie. Word of their innovation spread quickly, thanks to Mrs. Cady Stanton, who shared the news with her many contacts in the press. On August 13, 1868, the Buffalo Courier and Republic summarized her report, noting that "Nannie Miller, a granddaughter of Gerrit Smith's, is captain, and handles the bat with a grace and strength worthy of note. It was a pretty sight to see the girls with their white dresses and blue ribbons flying, in full possession of the public square last Saturday afternoon, while the boys were quiet spectators of the scene." An engraved illustration, showing the club at play, helped reinforce the message.4

Others soon adopted the notion. The following season, Cincinnati, home of the undefeated Red Stockings, also hosted a club "composed entirely of young ladies, who play very well."5 In Evansville, Illinois, the students of a female seminary followed suit. "They call themselves the Dianas," noted Oliver Optic's Magazine, "and they lately received a challenge from the Baltic club of Chicago, Juniors."6 The movement spread as far south as Columbus, Georgia, and in 1872, Appleton's reported that "the swiftest 'pitch' in the country is a young woman, aged 23, belonging to a Minnesota female base ball club."7

In the early 1870s, the focus of organized baseball shifted from clubs of gentlemen amateurs (more or less) to lineups composed of the best available professional players. In the fall of 1875, readers of the New York Clipper, which featured sports and theater, learned that

the latest commotion in the base ball line is the formation of a club composed of young ladies-9 blondes and 9 brunettes-at Springfield, Ill. The originators of the idea, Frank Myers, S. B. Brock, and Thomas Halligan, under the impression that there is money in it, propose to give exhibitions in the principal cities, depending on the novelty of the thing to render it a success.8

The "first game of baseball ever played in public for gate money between feminine ball-tossers" took place in the Illinois capital on September 11. The press was advised that the players were "a selected troupe of girls of reputable character who have shown some degree of aptitude in ball playing." The Clipper's correspondent noted that

both clubs wear a handsome new uniform, which does not differ materially from those worn by ordinary clubs. The Brunettes wear white suits trimmed with blue. The Blondes wear blue suits trimmed with white. They also have light leather gloves, and use a lighter ball than that required by the rules. The bases and field are a trifle over half the ordinary field, the bases being only 50 feet apart. …

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