The History of Women in Baseball
Women have been playing baseball as long as men have. Their long connection with the game began in the mid-1800s and has continued through the efforts of individual pioneers like Amanda Clement, Jackie Mitchell, Toni Stone, Maria Pepe and Ila Borders.
1866: The first organized team of women players is formed when Vassar College, then an all-women’s school, starts its first baseball team. The Vassar Resolutes’ uniform will consist of ankle-length dresses made of wool. (Women of this era are expected to wear dresses at all times, even if they are participating in physical exercise.) The team will be forced to disband in 1878 because of parents’ concerns over the safety of baseball for their daughters.
1904: 16-year-old Amanda Clement becomes the first female ever paid to umpire a baseball game. Each summer, she will umpire about 50 semi-pro games, receiving between $15 and $25 per game. She will become a gate attraction, with some fans coming out specifically to watch her umpire. She will leave baseball in 1911, having earned enough money to pay for her college education.
1907: At the age of 17, Alta Weiss joins a men’s semi-professional team, known as the Vermilion Independents. For her debut, a crowd of more than 1,200 fans comes out to watch her pitch. Weiss becomes a sensation, causing special trains to be arranged so that large groups of fans can travel to attend her games. Like Amanda Clement, she earns good money through baseball and uses it to further her education. The money that Weiss will earn as a pitcher will enable her to attend medical school and become a doctor.
1911: Helene Britton becomes the first female owner of a major league team, assuming the presidency of the St. Louis Cardinals on March 28. After Britton's uncle Stanley Robison passes away on March 24, 1911, she is named the recipient of three-fourths of his estate, including all of the St. Louis club’s stock. Britton will remain the owner of the Cardinals until 1918, when she sells the team and ballpark to Sam Breadon.
1920: The 19th amendment is added to the United States Constitution, giving women the right to vote in political elections. (It is important to remember that Black women and other women of color were often unable to benefit from this change in the law due to racist policies.)
Following the 19th amendment, America will enter a period of social and political change, with women challenging gender expectations by wearing more revealing clothes and cutting their hair short.
1931: 17-year-old Jackie Mitchell signs a contract with a men’s minor league team, the Chattanooga Lookouts. Soon after, the Lookouts will stage an exhibition game against the New York Yankees, arranging for Mitchell to pitch against Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. Mitchell will strike out both Hall of Famers. Some skeptics will claim that the event was staged, but Mitchell will maintain until her death that she simply surprised them with her tough sinkerball.
One week later, Commissioner Landis will rule that Mitchell’s contract is null and void, beginning a ban of women players that will last until 1993.
1935: Effa Manley and her husband Abe purchase the Brooklyn Eagles, a Negro Leagues franchise that they will soon move to Newark. Manley will run the business operations of the Eagles, managing the payroll and negotiating contracts with the players. She will work to improve conditions for players, including the securing of the best available hotel accommodations at a time when many hotels are segregated. Manley will also become an active force in the Civil Rights Movement.
1943: Chicago Cubs owner Phil Wrigley, concerned about the negative impact of World War II on baseball, forms the All-American Girls Softball League.
The league will soon switch to baseball and become known as the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). At final tryouts in Chicago, 280 women are invited, but only 60 will make the final cut. Four teams begin play in the league's first year: the Rockford Peaches, South Bend Blue Sox, Kenosha Comets and Racine Belles. Over the years the league doubles in size, with more than 600 women competing during the AAGPBL’s 12 seasons.
The players will be fitted with skirted uniforms, told to wear makeup, and required to attend charm school, all part of an effort to maintain a “ladylike” image of being feminine and proper.
Early 1950s: Denied the chance to play in the AAGPBL, Black women find a place to play in the Negro Leagues. At least 12 women will play in the Negro Leagues, including Toni Stone, Mamie Johnson, and Connie Morgan, ostensibly as a way to improve dwindling attendance at games.
1972: Despite updated policies stemming from the Women’s Liberation Movement, problems remain, including a lack of equality in Little League Baseball. A New Jersey girl, Maria Pepe, sues Little League Baseball in order to play. The Supreme Court will later rule that Little League must give girls the opportunity to try out.
Out of this ruling will come another ruling, called Title IX, stating that no one will be discriminated against on the basis of sex within schools, ensuring that high schools and colleges cannot exclude females from participating in varsity sports.
1992: Camden Yards, the creation of Baltimore Orioles executive Janet Marie Smith, opens in Baltimore. Smith directed the design of the ballpark, now regarded as the pioneer of a new era of major league parks.
1994: Two years after the movie, A League of Their Own, becomes a sensation, professional women’s baseball returns when the Colorado Silver Bullets are formed. It is an all-women’s team managed by Hall of Fame pitcher Phil Niekro. Approximately 1,300 women try out for the team, but only 24 will make the final roster.
2006: Effa Manley becomes the first woman inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.
2014: Mo’ne Davis of Philadelphia becomes the first girl to win a game and pitch a shutout in the history of the Little League World Series, drawing national attention for girls in amateur baseball.
2017: Claire Smith is named the winner of the prestigious BBWAA Career Excellence Award. She is the first woman to receive the honor.
2020: The San Francisco Giants hire Alyssa Nakken as an on-field coach, making her the first female to hold such a position in the history of the major leagues.
2020: The Miami Marlins hire Kim Ng as their new general manager. A longtime executive, Ng becomes the first woman to serve as a GM in the major leagues.
2021: The New York Yankees announce the promotion of minor league coach Rachel Balkovec to manager of their affiliate in Tampa, Fla. Balkovec becomes the first full-time female manager of a minor league team affiliated with MLB.