Early 20th Century Women in Baseball
Many Bloomer Girl teams traveled throughout the country in the first few decades of the 20th century. Maud Nelson was a long-time renowned organizer and the most famous of the early pitchers. Beginning her career in the 1890s, she pitched well into her 40s. Nelson became a constant on the diamonds lasting over forty years as a pitcher, third baseman, manager and entrepreneur.
Few women ballplayers gained much notoriety outside their community in the early decades of the 20th century except for Lizzie Murphy from Rhode Island, 1915-35, and Alta Weiss from Ohio. Weiss was discovered in 1907 playing catch with boys. She was quickly signed by an Ohio independent club and became the star attraction, even pitching an exhibition game at League Park in Cleveland. Her father purchased a semi-pro club and re-named it the Weiss All-Stars. They traveled throughout Ohio and Kentucky. In 1909 she left baseball to go to medical school where she graduated in 1914, naturally, the only woman in her class. Murphy played professionally against male clubs from age fifteen in 1909 to 1935. Mostly, she played for the barnstorming Boston All-Stars who often vied with and against major leaguers.
An all-female Bloomer Girl team traveled to Japan in the 1920s to play exhibition games against male college teams.
To spark fan interest and attendance, the Negro leagues fielded female ballplayers. First, Pearl Barrett saw action with the Havana Stars in 1917 and Isabel Baxter played one game at second for the Cleveland Giants in 1933. Later, the Indianapolis Clowns introduced Toni Stone and Connie Morgan as second basemen in 1953 and 1954, respectively. Peanut Johnson also pitched for the team in the latter year. Reportedly, Stone asked for a tryout with the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League but was ignored.
Jackie Mitchell may have been the first woman of the century to sign a professional contract in organized baseball. In 1932 the “Barnum of Baseball,” Joe Engel, was manager of the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Southern Association. Mitchell was only 17 years old at the time but had been trained to pitch by Hall of Famer Dazzy Vance. In a publicity stunt on April 2nd she struck out a chuckling Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Engel planned to use her in regular league games but the next day Judge Landis overturned her contract claiming that organized baseball was “too strenuous” for women to play.
In Class-D ball in 1936 Sunny Dunlap pitched the entire game for the Fayetteville Bears. It may be the last appearance of a woman in organized baseball.
The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League kicked off during World War II. The brainchild of Chicago Cubs owner Phillip Wrigley, it lasted from 1943-54. Max Carey, among others, helped organize the league and the list of managers included Dave Bancroft, Carey, Jimmie Foxx, Bill Wambsganss and Johnny Gottselig, a hockey pro. Today, it is best remembered for the 1992 movie A League of Their Own.
Amanda Clement was an umpire around the turn of the century. She toiled in over 300 games in six years, drawing praise from Teddy Roosevelt, among others.
Leslie Scarsella, wife of Cincinnati pinch hitter Les, called play-by-play for a Reds’ game in 1939. Another pioneer was sportswriter Jeane Hofmann. Writing for the New York Journal-American in the 1940s, she incurred harassment from peers and players alike. Her job was made even more difficult as she found clubhouses and press boxes inaccessible to women.
Helene Britton, the first woman to own a major league club, inherited the St. Louis Cardinals from her uncle Stanley Robison in 1911. Despite efforts to force her out by other National League owners, Britton stood her ground. After her marriage broke up, she assumed control over day-to-day operations from her husband, becoming the first woman to actively run a major league club. Britton sold the team in 1916. Grace Comiskey became the second female owner after the death of her husband.
Effa Manley stands out among female owners in both verve and intelligence. For years, she ran the Newark Eagles in the Negro leagues. Likewise, NAACP leader Olivia Taylor ran the Indianapolis ABCs. In the minors retail magnate Lucille Thomas purchased a Western League franchise in 1930.
Manley was co-owner of the Newark Eagles with her husband, Abe. It had been his life-long dream to own a baseball team. With his eye for talent Abe scouted up-and-coming ballplayers. Effa handled the business and public relations end of the operation. She was also a visionary and protector of the Negro leagues. This led to many clashes at executive meetings and informal gatherings. In 2006 she became the first female elected to Cooperstown.
The two met at the 1932 World Series and soon married. Abe was twenty years her senior and a professional gambler. They purchased the franchise three years later. Effa soon became a leader within the Negro National League, even helping to squelch a threatened player strike.
Manley is best known today for her outspoken condemnation of the player raids by major league executives after Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier. In 1947 she sold Larry Doby to Bill Veeck in Cleveland. However, she hired a lawyer when Branch Rickey of Brooklyn tried to simply take Monte Irvin without providing compensation. Rickey then offered $2,500 but was refused. Manley later sold Irvin to the Giants for $5,000. Irvin, like others, took a pay cut,$1,500, to join the majors.
J.L. Wilkinson, owner of the Kansas City Monarchs, was especially hit hard, losing Satchel Paige, Jackie Robinson, Ernie Banks and Elston Howard to the major leagues without receiving a cent. Understandably, it left him bitter.
In the Field
Former Bloomer Girl Edith Houghton scouted for the Philadelphia Phillies after World War II.
Thanks again for the info, 5LilPlayers. Again, it supports the fact that the male ego has highly influenced women's baseball since 1866 when the first women's oganized team developed at Vassar College. How can one not see how all this adds up to the male ego impeding women from doing things they choose and should be doing? Our society's standards are based on these opinions/insecurities/egos. Why did women stop playing ball on teams that developed after the Vassar College women's team developed? it was because our society's view was that women should not do such things. And where does that idea come from... from the male ego and male dominance and from insecure, weak women who are afraid to break down the barriers.
Does anyone have another explanation for it???