A league of their own… in 1905

The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League is justifiably honored for being the first (and to date only) professional women’s baseball league in the United States. Formed during World War II, it lasted, in one form or another, into the 1950s. The women who played are baseball pioneers who lived in obscurity for far too long. It took Penny Marshall’s movie, A League of their Own, to really shed some light on a part of baseball history that had been forgotten.

Prior to the AAGPBL, though, there were always women involved in baseball. As early as the 1900s, there were female baseball club owners like Florence Killilea Boley. Even “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” written in 1908, was originally written about a young lady who was a die-hard baseball fan. The part of the song that we sing at ballgames is just the chorus; you can see the lyrics on Wikipedia.

Women were playing baseball at a pretty early stage in the game’s history, too. Consider this headline from 1905: “Los Angeles School Girls Form a Baseball League.” The school is the Brownsberger Home School, which is a little misnamed. While it started as a school in the home of Mrs. Florida Brownsberger, it had become a well-known business college by 1905. It was one of the largest colleges in Southern California at its peak. While it taught things like typing and shorthand, it also gave its co-ed student body opportunities for athletics, too. This syndicated news story ran in papers across the country in July of 1905.

“If boys play ball I don’t see why girls can’t play the game,” said Professor Laura Jones, of the Brownsberger Home School, of Los Angeles, over a year ago. “My girls play basketball, tennis and all the other games, and I know they can play baseball better than half the men.”

Professor Jones made this statement over a year ago, and the result has been that now there are three well-trained girls’ baseball teams in Los Angeles, and a league has just been formed which will be composed of six teams. It is the first league of its kind in the history of the grand old national game.

Professor Jones made her statement good by getting the girls of her school interested and securing them a coach. Burgess Robinson, an old ballplayer, undertook to teach them the game, and he had a terrible time.

They play the game according to the regulation rules adopted by the major leagues, and the only difference is in the size of the diamond and the ball. The diamond is slightly smaller than the regular one and the ball is larger than the regulation league ball, and not quite as large as the ball used in the indoor game. The girls’ league has a few special rules of its own, and one of them is a fine of 5 cents every time a player throws the ball underhanded. Coach Robinson says the girls are good at catching and batting the ball, but have not yet learned to field low balls properly.

Members of the Brownsberger Home School at a baseball practice.

Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to find any record of the games, if they were ever played. I did find one report from the Los Angeles Record about the Brownsberger ballplayers. They trained at a 40-acre lot on Jefferson Street in Los Angeles. Some of them didn’t want to be photographed, but the starting lineup of one of the teams was named: Gertie Bright, pitcher; Beth Winkler, catcher; Dottie Bright, first base; Annie McDonald, second base; Lalah Perkins, third base; Ida Winkler, shortstop; Daisy Jordan, left field; Dottie Allen, center field; and Nell Buffington, right field.

The Record ran a follow-up story about women in baseball that September, and Brownsberger had been joined by Occidental College and a couple other schools that had women’s baseball teams. “The baseball girl, the latest thing in youthful femininity, however, has come to stay,” the paper wrote. “And the dear old fogies who are shocked at bloomers and the girl athlete might as well take off their blue goggles and settle down to “what is, is.”

There were some opposing views. President J.F. Millspaugh of the State Normal school said he was of the opinion that “the genuine game of baseball is not suitable for girls,” — though he thought a modified game might be agreeable.

President George F. Boward of the University of Southern California took the opposing view. “I think baseball is all right for girls. We had a team that played last year indoors. This year, I think that the campus will be large enough to allow for the girls’ baseball team to play out of doors.”

“The baseball girl,” the Record concluded, “is here to stay.”

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