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'Ladies Day' connected women to baseball

Tradition began as early as 1883 to create better fan atmosphere
MLB.com

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 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 continue this series by taking at look at an early approach used to attract female fans -- Ladies Day.

ST. LOUIS -- Every time the Cardinals step onto the field at Busch Stadium III, thousands of seats are filled by a melting pot of people who have come together to take in a ballgame. Early in baseball's history, however, a diversity of spectators attending a game was extremely rare.

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 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 continue this series by taking at look at an early approach used to attract female fans -- Ladies Day.

ST. LOUIS -- Every time the Cardinals step onto the field at Busch Stadium III, thousands of seats are filled by a melting pot of people who have come together to take in a ballgame. Early in baseball's history, however, a diversity of spectators attending a game was extremely rare.

Women were not considered fans in professional baseball's early years, which resulted in the creation of Ladies Days, a tradition that set the stage for females to build a connection to the sport.

The St. Louis Browns (present-day Cardinals) were one of the first teams to institute Ladies Days. Led by president and club owner Chris von der Ahe, the team designated games where women were allowed to attend for free with a male escort as early as 1883.

Women in Baseball Part 1 | Part 2

The idea of women coming to games spread in an attempt to create a better fan atmosphere.

"It was frowned upon for women to be [at the ballpark early on]," said Timothy Wiles, co-author of "Baseball's Greatest Hit: The Story of 'Take Me Out to the Ball Game.'" "In part because there was drinking and there was cursing or betting or gambling on the outcome of the next pitch or the next batter."

Extra measures were taken to create a more positive environment for women at the ballpark, such as adding female restrooms, special seating sections for women and souvenirs like handkerchiefs and fans.

In 1909, however, the National League decided to ban Ladies Day. This was most likely because team owners felt women had grown to have a connection to the sport and would actually buy their own tickets.

"Part of the reason [Ladies Day ended], I think, is because of the popularity of the song that came out in 1908, 'Take Me Out to the Ball Game,'" said Paula Homan, manager and curator of the Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum. "It was all about women going to a game with their beau, and so what the league understood was that women were willing to go to games and just buy tickets."

Cardinals Hall of Fame Museum

In 1912, Cardinals owner Helene Britton, the first female owner of a professional baseball team, decided to bring back Ladies Day to encourage female fans to attend games. She made a small change to the practice: Male escorts were no longer required. Other teams in the NL followed suit by '17.

Ladies Day gradually transformed throughout the team's history into such events as baseball clinics held for women at Busch Memorial Stadium from 1966-67. The first 10,000 women who came to the event in '67 received complimentary floppy paper hats that were white with red polka dots and had a red Cardinal on top. The attendance for the event exceeded expectations.

The impact of Ladies Days can still be seen today in Ladies Nights at the ballpark and special giveaways designed with women in mind.

"Today, we know we have probably as many woman fans attending games as we do men, and they're well-educated fans," Homan said. "I think that all of the efforts over this period of time, which amounts to over a century, have made it extremely easy for young girls to embrace the sport of baseball and enjoy coming to games and who knows, maybe someday we'll have woman athletes playing Major League Baseball."

Alaina Getzenberg is a reporter for MLB.com based in St. Louis.

St. Louis Cardinals