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:
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:
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:
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.