1st female owner Britton blazed trail with Cards

Revolutionary overcame obstacles to pioneer changes within game

June 19th, 2017

Through the end of the 2017 season, the Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum will feature a special 'Women in Baseball' exhibit to highlight women who have made to contributions to St. Louis baseball and the game at large. In conjunction with this exhibit, MLB.com will be telling the stories of some of those women over the course of the next few months. We begin this series with an introduction to trailblazer Helene Britton.

ST. LOUIS -- A family walked onto the field at Busch Stadium before the Cardinals game on June 10. Char, Candy, Crystal and Chad Barone hadn't been to a game together for 30 years, but they met on the diamond in honor of an extraordinary woman.

They are descendants of Helene Britton, who transcended gender boundaries to become the first woman to own a professional sports team when she assumed that role for the Cardinals in 1911.

Britton was a revolutionary before her time. She overcame pressuring by fellow owners to sell the team, and she maintained ownership until 1917. Britton remained unwavering in her commitment to the club, too, despite going through a divorce with an abusive husband in a time when divorce was largely taboo for women.

Over the past 10 years, more light has been shed on the impact Britton had in Cardinals history. Interested in learning more about her great-grandmother, Crystal Barone reached out to Joan Thomas, who had written an article on Britton for the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).

That inquiry led to more research and eventually a book, "Baseball's First Lady," authored by Thomas.

"I think one of the things that I was really intrigued by was the fact that she was known for being strong, obviously, but she also had a really feminine and proper side," Barone said. "To be able to do both and to understand the game, I think that was really incredible."

Two years after the National League began allowing women to purchase their own tickets and nine years before women were granted the right to vote, Britton took over as owner of the Cardinals after her uncle, Stanley Robison, passed away. With no male siblings, it was up to her to maintain ownership of the team, although most thought she would immediately sell.

Instead, Britton pioneered changes within baseball, reinstating a Ladies Day, when women could attend a baseball game, in 1913. These days were often promoted to try to get more women through the gates to balance the negative image associated with all-male crowds.

Britton faced significant difficulties as an owner, including the challenges that came when a new professional baseball league, the Federal League (1914-15). She also endured personal economic difficulties.

Though Britton did eventually sell the club in 1917, her love for the game has been passed down through generations.

"I see [Britton] so much in my daughters, so much of her," Char Barone said. "Both of my daughters are very successful at what they do. If Helene could do this back then, where would she be today?"

Ten other women have gone on to own MLB franchises since Britton.

"There was one comment she made in an interview that always struck me," Thomas said. "Someone asked her to what she attributed her success or some question like that, and she said, 'All I really needed was the opportunity, and that's all any woman needs.'"