#Shortstops: Madame umpire
Women have a long and storied history when it comes to participation in baseball, having been involved in the National Pastime from its earliest days.
One of the more unique positions a woman has held is that of umpire.
At the turn of the 20th century, Amanda Clement became the first woman to ever be paid to umpire a game. She had grown up around ballparks in Hudson, S.D., and often officiated at her brother’s sandlot games when no one else was available. Filling in ended up being how Clement got her start as a paid umpire in 1904 when she was only 16 years old, after stepping in at a game when the regular official failed to show.
This started a six-year career where every summer she would average about 50 semi-pro games throughout South and North Dakota, Nebraska, Iowa, and Minnesota. Clement was paid around $15-$25 per game and used that money to help pay her tuition at both Yankton Academy and the University of Nebraska.
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When Clement began umpiring, people viewed her as an attraction. Baseball promoters capitalized off this fame by giving her more publicity in advertising than even the opposing team. Despite being used for promotional purposes, Clement took her job seriously, proving she was more than a novelty and advocating for other women to join her ranks. She argued that if women umpired all the games in the National and American Leagues, the only objectionable aspect of baseball, the rowdiness and vulgarity of the players and crowd when yelling at the umpire, would be curtailed.
To quote Clement, it is doubtful that any ballplayer would say to an attractive woman umpire “you color-blind, pickled-brained, cross-eyed idiot, if you don’t stop throwing the soup into me I’ll distribute your features all over your countenance!”
Clement was always treated very well by the players and when they had an issue with a call, they brought it up in a respectful fashion. This plays on notions of gender roles that were prevalent during the early 1900s, the idea being that society’s perception of young ladies as genteel and fragile would prevent women umpires from being accosted. Clement essentially utilized conservative ideas of womanhood to her advantage on the field, gaining credibility through the players’ treatment of her.
Her career is also representative of how women’s athleticism was becoming acceptable as the 20th century moved away from Victorian era constrictions. This allowed Clement to understand her occupation as one that fit entirely within the construct of womanhood and was not unfeminine, though historical perspective reveals how being a woman umpire still fundamentally challenged traditional expectations for women.
Rather than accept one of the many marriage proposals she got from ballplayers, Clement pursued a career in physical education following her umpire days as a husband would have ended any professional aspirations, further demonstrating how Clement created opportunities for herself outside of the established norm.
And while Clement’s advice to have women officiate every baseball game has not been taken up by the major leagues, baseball was still forever changed by the presence of this particular umpire – as documented by a baseball now part of the Hall of Fame collection – used in a series of 1908 games umpired by Clement.
Her career and fame prove that women have participated in baseball throughout its history and that people not only accepted their involvement at times but were thrilled to witness it.
Patricia Singletary was a public programming intern in the Hall of Fame’s Frank and Peggy Steele Internship Program for Youth Leadership Development