A Baseball Prodigy

Edith Houghton began playing professional baseball at age 10

March 04, 2012
(NBHOF Library)

COOPERSTOWN, N.Y. -- Edith Grace Houghton was a baseball prodigy, playing professional baseball from the age of 10 in 1922.

After her playing days were done, she worked as a scout for a major league ballclub, one of the few women to hold that job.

Trained by her father, a talented local ballplayer, Houghton loved baseball from a very young age and dazzled older players on Philadelphia’s neighborhood sandlots. In 1922, she tried out for a new women’s semi-pro ballclub, the Philadelphia Bobbies, who planned to barnstorm the area in identical bobbed haircuts. Though only 10 and the youngest on the field, she quickly became their starting shortstop and best player.

Houghton led the club in games against both women’s and men’s teams. A Lancaster, Pa., sportswriter reported, “Little Miss Houghton, 10-year-old phenom, covered the ground at shortstop for the team and made herself a favorite with fans for her splendid field work and at the bat.”

The Bobbies arranged a tour of Japan in 1925, adding two men to catch and pitch, and they attracted a great deal of publicity as they played their way across the U.S. before leaving. Once in Japan, as the host men’s college teams easily defeated the women, the tour unraveled, stranding the players.They were rescued by a generous English-Indian banker who paid for their return home.It was an amazing adventure for Houghton at 13.

While continuing in Philadelphia’s schools, Houghton was a two-time tennis champion and competed in other sports. But she also continued her baseball career, one season in New Jersey and six with arguably the top women’s team of the day, Margaret Nabel's New York Bloomer Girls. She also spent two seasons touring the southern U.S., with the Hollywood Girls.

In the mid-1930s, finding no opportunities for pro baseball, Houghton played with Philadelphia area ballclubs and turned to softball teams, playing and managing the popular New York Roverettes in 1939 and 1940.

During World War II, Houghton enlisted in the women’s Navy unit, the WAVES, and served in Washington, D.C., where she played for a variety of military teams of both women and men. Houghton led her club to the WAVE championship in 1944. She considered joining the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, but opted to stay in the military.

After the war, now in her 30s, Houghton applied for a position as scout for the Philadelphia Phillies. She got the job in 1946, making headlines that claimed she was first women scout for a major league team. As sometimes happens, this was an exaggeration. Her most prominent predecessor, Bessie Largent, scouted for the White Sox from 1925 to 1940, though she worked with her husband.

Houghton also contributed to baseball in other ways, for example, with the 1946 board of the amateur National Baseball Congress.

Still a Navy reserve, Houghton was recalled in 1951 and left the Phillies, though she revived her softball career with the WAVES. At the end of the Korean conflict, her baseball and softball careers were over.

As the years passed, occasional news accounts remembered Houghton’s exploits and reported that she continued her love of the game. After she retired to Florida in the1980s, she attended spring training games near her home.

Lenny DiFranza is the assistant curator of new media for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum