While many of the sports we enjoy today—football, baseball, golf, track and field, etc. etc.—have been around for a very long time, basketball is a relative newcomer. Born in the 1890s, basketball has come into its own as a truly 20th century sport.
In 1891, Dr. James Naismith worked at a YMCA in Massachusetts. He needed a physical activity the men could engage in during the long New England winters. With two peach baskets nailed on opposite walls and a set of 13 rules, the game of basket ball (yes, in the early days it was often two words) began.
In and of itself, the history of basket ball is interesting. But even more interesting is the fact that women picked up on the game almost immediately after its inception. The first woman’s game was organized by Senda Berenson at Smith College in 1892. She adapted Dr. Naismith’s rules to emphasize the cooperative aspect of the team sport as well as to accommodate the prevailing wisdom concerning women and strenuous physical activities.
Berenson divided the court into 3 zones occupied by 2 players from each team. Yes, six girls against six girls. The interesting thing about the zones is that they were completely static. If you were placed under your own basket, on defense, you were not allowed to cross the line into the center zone. If you were positioned in the center zone, your job being to feed the ball from the defense to the offense, you could not cross the line into either basket’s territory. Likewise, if you were placed in a position to shoot the ball toward the basket, that was your only job and you stayed within the lines of that zone.
In 1901 Spalding edited and published Berenson’s rules, but those weren’t the only rules by which girls played basket ball. Some teams used Baer’s rules while others played the same game the boys played. By the early years of the 20th century, several women's colleges had set up teams. (It is interesting to note that other colleges banned women’s basket ball!)
Bloomers appeared as the accepted basket ball costume in 1896. The first high school girls game on record happened in Chicago in 1896 as well. And yet people still weren’t convinced this was an appropriate game for women to play. Especially in public. But the popularity of the sport continued to grow.
If you look at high school yearbooks from small towns in the 1910s and 1920s, you often find a girls basket ball team included. And while the sport remained “modified” from the boys’ game even into the 1970s, basket ball as a sport for girls, especially at the high school level, has enjoyed a lifespan of over a hundred years.
Tell me what fascinated you most about this short history of women and basketball and I’ll enter you to win a copy of my newest release, Playing by Heart, where Lula has an unexpected encounter with the sport.
Anne Mateer loves bringing history to life through fiction. She is the author of four historical novels, all set in the years of or just before World War I. Anne and her husband live in Texas. To discover more about Anne, visit her website at www.annemateer.com.
Hello Anne. I found this history very interesting. I had never heard of this but I say, yea for the women. Glad they learned real fast and adjusted the game as it needed to be. I am still trying to win this book of yours. Maybe this will be my lucky time. GOD bless you. Maxie > mac262(at)me(dot)com <ReplyDelete
Bless you for your persistence, Maxie! :)Delete
I loved learning about basketballs beginnings. I had no idea it started in a YMCA. We had a YMCA (& YWCA) in my hometown and lots of B-ball was played . . . swimming and fun rec stuff too! My daughter was a great basketball player. We have coached in Upward Basketball, a Christ-centered instructional basketball league, where stars are given out at the end of the game and the most cherished star is the white star, most Christ-like player. I grew up in Rockford, Illinois and basketball ruled as the winter sport! Thank you so much. I just signed up for your blog and love history! I love your writing Anne.ReplyDelete
Yes, we spent many years playing Upward basketball, too. My husband even coached. :) Always lovely to connect with history-loving readers! :)Delete
I enjoyed this post on women's basketball. I was amazed at how the rules began and progressed, especially the "zone" areas. I played basketball in High School in a very small town in Texas. Thank you for the chance to win "Playing By Heart".ReplyDelete
I subscribe to the HHH blog. psalm103and138[at]gmail[dot]com
You are welcome! I loved learning this history, too, especially after one of my friends who played basketball in Texas told me that even in the seventies her high school played modified rules for girls. (6 on 6, I believe.) Thanks for entering to win!Delete
The most interesting part was that the women picked up the sport right away. Not as surprising that they had a different set of rules!ReplyDelete
I think many were looking for an "appropriate" athletic outlet and basketball (with the modified rules) provided that!Delete
I was surprised at how soon after men started playing basket ball that the women did. I didn't realize women's basketball had been around that many years!ReplyDelete
Most people don't! I love learning that history is sometimes different from what I imagined it would be!Delete
Thanks for sharing - that was very interesting. I played basketball in high school and I think our rules were the same as they guys by then. It is so fascinating to learn more history about things that interest so many. God blessReplyDelete
bettimace at gmail dot com
I love hearing from all of you high school basketball players! That is so fun! My daughter played through high school but I never could grasp the game until I had kids playing it. I was hopelessly unathletic in my teens! :)Delete
I enjoyed reading this. I had read about the general history of basketball before, but not about how it got started for women. The most interesting thing was about the static zones they played in. I played basketball in high school, and I keep imagining us trying to play only in our assigned areas. I'll have to tell some of my teammates about that and see if they knew that piece of history:)ReplyDelete
My guess is that it wasn't as hard for them as it would be now for girls who've learned to play full court. :)Delete
I think it's interesting how they assigned positions by zones. It's crazy to think how far basketball has come from its early days as...basket ball.ReplyDelete
Yes! It is definitely a faster and more aggressive game for both girls and boys today compared to the early years!Delete
What I think is hilarious is that they didn't cut the bottom out of the peach baskets at first and someone on a ladder had to retrieve the balls!!ReplyDelete
Yes, that is so funny! But then I guess necessity is the mother of invention so they finally figured it out! :)Delete
I found it interesting that women have played basketball almost as long as men, and that some colleges had women's teams at the same time other colleges banned basketball for women.ReplyDelete
Thanks for this chance to win Anne's book; I always enjoy her books.
It was definitely a touchy subject for some people at first. I do love that it eventually caught on. It was my daughter's favorite sport to play in school. :)Delete
Yep, bloomers. But I loved how each team of girls had their own style. I also loved how many of them tied up their hair, too!ReplyDelete
I found your blog post on the history of girls' basketball really interesting. I don't recall reading about its history before. I especially think the static zone rules would be something fun to try, just for the novelty. It would certainly be a different game! If it isn't too late, I'd love to win a copy of your book.ReplyDelete
may_dayzee (AT) yahoo (DOT) com