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.