Monday, July 3, 2017

Batter Up, Ladies! The Beginnings of Women's Baseball

Baseball is said to be America's greatest past time, and it's as old as America itself--if not older. While Abner Doubleday is attributed with inventing baseball in New York in 1839, some scholars think people were playing a sport much like it on US soil by the 1790's, and that game was based on another played in medieval Europe, People have apparently been hitting balls with a stick for a long, long time!

"Medieval Baseball"` Cantigas de Santa Maria, circa 1280. Public Domain

Regardless of its origins, baseball was extremely popular in the mid 1800's--not just among men, but women, too, despite many people's beliefs at that time that ladies shouldn't partake of vigorous exercise.

One source of evidence for females playing "base ball" (as it was called back then) comes from the first women's colleges in America. Students asked for teams and space to play in the 1860's, implying they already knew the rules and what to do. Vassar College formed two teams in 1866, but provided no instruction, supervision, or equipment.(Click here to see a wonderful photo of one of the teams!) 

Other colleges had teams, as well. Baseball was a little rougher than it is now (it included shoving, tripping, etc.), and the play at Smith College was apparently so unmannerly the administration banned it from campus for a time.

Baseball fever among females wasn't limited to women's colleges, of course. In September of 1875, Springfield, Illinois hosted an exhibition game between the Blondes and the Brunettes. The Blondes won, 42-38, but from that point forward, teams with those names comprised of blondes squaring off against brunette players toured the country for several years.

The Dolly Vardens of Philadelphia was an African American ladies' team. (There were several teams of white male players in Pennsylvania who went by this name in baseball's early days, and the two teams are sometimes confused.) In 1883, the New York Times reported that Miss Ella Harris was team captain of the calico-clad Dolly Vardens, and on a game day, the opposing team missed the train and had to forfeit. 
Late 1860's fashion, not ideal for playing baseball! by Henri le Leure, Carte-de-visite portrait of Margherita of Savoy-Genoa. Public Domain {{PD-1923}}

Uniforms were not worn by female players then, nor were gloves (by male or female players). Women wore their every day clothing, which could mean up to thirty pounds of fabric: slips, corset, dress, stockings, etc., and heeled shoes.

In the 1890s, things got a little more comfortable, clothes-wise, when players began to wear Bloomers. The Boston Bloomer Girls club found it far easier to run in the loose pants instead of a skirt. The Bloomer Girls toured America in 1897, playing (and often beating) men's clubs. 
Palisade, CO women's baseball team, around 1910. Public Domain.
It wasn't until the 1930's, however, when female baseball players toured out of the country and signed minor league contracts. In 1943, Philip Wrigley (owner of the Chicago Cubs and Wrigley's Gum) founded the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, a precursor to today's modern leagues and clubs.

Thanks to the female pioneers of yesteryear, women and girls all over the world play baseball and softball for enjoyment and exercise. 



Susanne Dietze began writing love stories in high school, casting her friends in the starring roles. Today, she's the award-winning author of over a dozen historical romances who's seen her work on the ECPA and Publisher's Weekly Bestseller Lists for Inspirational Fiction. Married to a pastor and the mom of two, Susanne lives in California and enjoys fancy-schmancy tea parties, genealogy, the beach, and curling up on the couch with a costume drama and a plate of nachos. You can learn more on her website, 

Her new novella, The Right Pitch from July's Of Rags and Riches Romance Collection, features a 4th of July exhibition game between two ladies' baseball teams during the Centennial Celebration of 1876.


  1. A great informative post about the start of baseball among women in America. I enjoyed playing baseball with siblings, cousins, and at school during recess time growing up. I did play one year on a church leauge team. Thank you for sharing--perfect as we celebrate America's Independence Day since baseball is all America.

    Her story The Right Pitch sounds intriguing that is in Of Rags and Riches Romance Collection.

    1. Hi Marilyn! I enjoyed playing baseball, too. My brother and I used to play in the street with neighborhood kids. I am not very good at it, but it's fun!

      The big baseball game in the story takes place on the 4th of July, so this is a great time to read it! I set it during the Centennial Celebration in Philadelphia, and had a lot of fun doing research and learning about the patriotic celebrations.

      I hope you have a wonderful celebration of Independence Day tomorrow! Thanks for coming by.

  2. I love your post and thank you so much for sharing. I hit the ball with my grands the other day and had such fun. Ladies that played ball back then brought so much pleasure to others.

    1. Hi Melanie! How fun, to play with your grandchildren! Those sorts of memories last forever. I am not very good at baseball, but I enjoy taking a turn at the bat anyway!

      I hope you have a wonderful holiday tomorrow. Happy 4th!

  3. Very interesting. I can just imagine how exhausting it would be to wear all that clothing and play a sport, too.

    1. Oh Melissa, I agree! I can't imagine wearing all of those layers and exercising! Tight corsets were in style for part of this period, and it would have been so difficult to breathe.

      Thanks for coming by!

  4. I played ball with my brother and a neighbor boy but I never participated with a team. When I was growing up, girls didn't play Little League and I am so glad that they are now valuable contributors!
    Thanks for sharing this post. Happy 4th of July!

  5. Happy 4th of July to you, too, Connie!

    I was never on an official team, either. I played in the street with my brother and neighbor kids. It's amazing we never broke a window!

    Thanks for coming by today!

  6. Great post, Susie. I enjoyed reading it.