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Three fascinating stories about women who played baseball in the 19th century

Last year, the Sonoma Stompers signed three players from the U.S Women's National Baseball Team: catcher Anna Kimbrell and pitchers Stacy Piagno and Kelsie Whitmore. Together, Kimbrell and Whitmore became the first all-female battery on a professional team since the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League folded in 1954. But the history of women in professional baseball is as long as the history of baseball itself, as Debra Shattuck demonstrates in her new book, "Bloomer Girls: Women Baseball Pioneers."

The book, released on January 15, looks back at the women who have been playing our national pastime since it became, well, our national pastime. Shattuck very kindly appeared on the Cut4Cast, Cut4's podcast, to discuss some of her favorite stories from "Bloomer Girls" (you can listen here). Here are three facts from its pages you might not have heard before.

The first professional women's teams were mostly theatrical

The earliest known professional women's teams were called the Blondes and the Brunettes, and they were formed in Springfield, Ill. in 1875. Although women and girls played baseball competitively across the country, the Blondes and the Brunettes were meant to be more like vaudeville shows.


Many of the players were actresses and were taught to play by the teams' organizers. Shattuck writes:

Public opinion about the nation's first professional female baseball troupe ran the gamut from supportive to brutally negative. Those who understood that the games were intended to be theatrical entertainment, not athletic contests, were generally supportive … After the teams' first public game in Springfield, the Daily Journal … politely minimized the poor quality of play and emphasized the entertainment value of the exhibition.

But some women played professionally on men's teams

Though "women's baseball" was marketed as a novelty act, that didn't prevent female athletes from taking it seriously. Lizzie Arlington, a pitcher, and her brother Harry, a catcher, were a sibling battery:

On June 20, 1891, two months shy of her fourteenth birthday, Lizzie and her brother took the field as the battery for the Mahanoy City team against the visiting Cincinnati Reds -- one of two professional women's baseball teams barnstorming through the area. After just one inning, the Reds' manager, Mark Lally, announced that his pitcher was injured, and he recruited Lizzie to play for his team. With Lizzie pitching and Harry catching, the Reds won the contest, 20-11 …

In 1898, Arlington became the first woman paid to play on a professional men's team. Recruited by Atlantic League president Ed Barrow, she pitched the ninth inning for the Reading Coal Heavers and gave up two hits and no runs in their victory over the Allentown Peanuts.

But Lizzy wasn't the only one to cross the barrier into men's baseball. Her teammate on the Reds, Maud Nelson, would go on to play for both men's and women's teams, manage a little, scout a little, and even own a handful of teams herself. There should probably be a statue of her outside of at least one ballpark:


A New York state legislator tried to ban women from playing baseball … in the future

Not everyone was happy about women's baseball growing increasingly competitive. A New York state legislator named Edward McCormick even introduced a bill to prohibit women from playing at all, but his fellow lawmakers found it a bit ridiculous. Therefore, they added a peculiar provision to the bill:

McCormick's bill caused general laughter … The Committee on General Laws got the bill and had more fun with it, reporting back … that members favored the bill but with amendments. Its revised bill banned only hiring "red-headed" female baseball players, exempted Kings County and the village of Black Rock, and set the enactment more than a century in the future -- January 1, 2009.

Fortunately, it did not pass. 

Interested in learning more about women playing baseball in the 19th century? Good. "Bloomer Girls" is definitely worth your time.