Adventures in Feministory: Balls Out Edition

Let's saddle up the wayback machine, kids, and travel to the year 1866. It was this very year, when baseball was deemed too difficult and violent a sport for ladies to play, when the Vassar Resolutes hiked up their giant, heavy skirts to run the base paths anyway. I found this photo of the Resolutes (and, OMG—can you believe they were called the Resolutes?) in an advance copy of Jennifer Ring's Stolen Bases: Why American Girls Don't Play Baseball, which will be available from the University of Illinois Press in March 2009...

I love this picture. I love the ladies' caps, totally incongruous with those insane dresses, and the sashes that say "Resolutes" around their waists (it's kind of hard to see with this version of the photo, which we grabbed from the Baseball Hall of Fame site). I love the ladies' totally fierce faces and seriousness; they're like, "Uh, can we hurry up and take the picture so we can get back to doing what we love, which is playing baseball?!"

I haven't read the whole book yet (it just came in the mail—expect more coverage soon), but the parts I've read seem expertly researched, interesting, and super-informative about the exclusionary legacy of our country's favorite sport: "At the same time that Albert Spalding was working to mythologize baseball as a manly American game," Ring writes, "both softball and basketball were invented, designed to be easy enough for girls to play without being overly competitive or physical." Both softball and basketball, Ring goes on to say, were meant to be played indoors, "away from inappropriate gazes of passersby and men."

But the women at many all-female schools like Vassar, Smith College, and others managed to keep playing baseball—outdoors, even. Ring's coverage of the college teams is inspiring and often really sweet, like when she quotes former Resolute Sophia Richardson reminiscing about her intramural league (about 100 years before Title IX, by the way):

...[W]hen I was a freshman, seven or eight baseball clubs suddenly came into being, spontaneously as it seemed, but I think they owed their existence to a few quiet suggestions from a resident physician, wise beyond her generation. The public so far as it knew of our playing was shocked, but in our retired grounds...we continued to play in spite of a censorious public. One day a student, while running between bases, fell with an injured leg. We attended her to the infirmary, with the foreboding that this accident would end our play of baseball. Not so. Dr. Webster said that the public doubtless would condemn the game as too violent, but that if the student had hurt herself while dancing the public would not condemn dancing to extinction.

Damn straight, Dr. Webster—maybe if there had been more folks like you, there'd be more ladies in the dugouts today.

by Jonanna Widner
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6 Comments Have Been Posted


I am absolutely adoring this column. One woman that I just recently learned about and would love to see profiled is Clarina Nichols. I just picked up Diane Eickhoff's book about her and couldn't put it down.

Love to see otherwise forgotten and unknown women activists get noticed.


Hell yeah.

This post makes me grin and grin. It's good to hear about badassed women bucking the system throughout history. (Nice title, by the way.)

Looking forward to a full review of the book!

I'm with the previous commenter

I am loving this weekly feature. Keep the feministory coming, please!


We're so glad ya'll like it, and thanks so very much for the feedback (and for the suggestions of heroines of feministory—keep 'em coming!).


I started covering high-school sports for a community newspaper about a year ago and I have been very curious about the development of softball.

I followed the most recent season pretty closely, and I've come to have a great appreciation for softball. It seems to be a very distinct sport from baseball at this point. Even though the rules of the game were originally established to make it "easier" I don't think that is still the case at all. There is a lot more infield play and complexity, a lot more finesse to the game. It's all much more team-oriented than baseball.

I really like that we have these two popular, distinct sports, but it is just deplorable that the reason behind it is blatant blatant sexism.

I heart softball...

too. I played on a really good, committed, elite team as a youth (fast-pitch) in Texas and it was an amazing experience. Texas is so weird...most of my teammates and their parents were pretty conservative in their idea of gender roles, except they took their girls' softball interest, games, and careers very seriously (some of it just as creepily intense as those dugout dads who get way too invested in their sons' baseball careers.And it's true, like you say, that it's a great sport in part because there is more finesse, more infield play, etc...but I think in a way that's why people consider it inferior to boys' baseball. People want to see power and individual achievment--even in team sports--more than team play and defense.It's the same with basketball. The ladies in the WNBA have mad basic skills and fundamentals, and to perfect something like that takes a lifetime of concentration and work. to see in action is a beautiful thing. Dribbling, defense and jump shots take more skill than dunking, which is more of a power move. But that's what folks wanna see.

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