Introduction: In this article, Gena Philibert-Ortega searches old newspapers to learn more about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, which was featured in the 1992 hit move “A League of Their Own.” Gena is a genealogist and author of the book “From the Family Kitchen.”
“There’s no crying in baseball.”
–Tom Hanks, A League of Their Own
The 1992 movie A League of Their Own brought to America’s attention a part of World War II-era history that most had forgotten. A women’s baseball league once existed and entertained hundreds of thousands of Americans when the male baseball players were needed on the battlefront.
From 1943 to 1954, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League played baseball games throughout the United States at a time when women were stepping in to do the jobs that men left behind as they marched off to war. Founded by gum manufacturer and Chicago Cubs owner Philip Wrigley, the Girls League included 600 players from Canada and the United States. The league allowed the professional sport of baseball and American’s interest in watching baseball games to exist despite the lack of male baseball players.
The newspaper documented the life and games of the league from recruitment and training to game announcements and results. These articles also provide historical images of the women involved in the league. In some cases, you can find photos of entire teams with the names of the women and their male managers, such as this 1944 example of the Rockford Peaches.
When the league began in 1943 it sported just four teams: the Kenosha Comets, Racine Belles, Rockford Peaches, and South Bend Blue Sox. In 1944 the league added two more teams: the Milwaukee Chicks and Minneapolis Millerettes. At its peak, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League boasted 11 teams.
As with all sports, there were comparisons made about the women players, such as this 1945 newspaper article discussion over who was the best pitcher: Grand Rapids Chicks’ pitcher Connie Wisniewski or Rockford Peaches’ Carolyn Morris. The article concludes that Morris is the best because:
“In her three victories Morris pitched 21 innings, 20 of which were scoreless. The two runs that scored against her in her relief role were left on base by Olive Little and both were unearned runs… Which means she hurled 21 innings without an earned run being scored against her, all in a space of five days. If that isn’t an ‘iron woman’ stunt then we don’t know what is.”
Of course, not everyone was convinced that “girl’s baseball” was worthy of a trip to the ballpark. This 1947 newspaper article about the game between the Rockford Peaches and Grand Rapids Chicks emphasizes that real baseball is being played:
“The two teams are expected to give local baseball fans some real thrills tonight when they start their first game. The girls play real ‘he-man’ baseball, with 70-foot basepaths, 43-foot pitching distance, 11-inch ball, base stealing and baseball rules.”
It’s important to remember that they did all that wearing a skirt. The article goes on to say to those nay-sayers:
“All in all, it’s expected to be an exciting game, a game that will keep the fans clicking the turnstiles; one that will make the most dyed-in-the-wool skeptic an avid fan after once viewing it.”
As an added bonus, this article provides a photo of the Rockford Peaches team.
There may have been a reluctance to watch “girls play baseball” but eventually the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League gained a following. A July 1946 double-header in South Bend, Indiana, attracted 10,000 people and the ten teams playing in the 1948 season attracted 910,000 paid fans.(1)
Eventually, the boys came back from the war and baseball got back to “normal.” By the 1954 season, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was playing its last games and championship. The end came for a variety of reasons. Lack of continued investment in marketing was one. Of course, the return of male baseball players was most likely a huge factor. We know that women were encouraged to go back home after the war, and that certainly had an impact on the women baseball players – who now not only had husbands at home but may have wanted to start families.
The women’s league was all but forgotten until the 1992 movie A League of Their Own put the spotlight on this brief but important addition to the sports world. The movie brought attention and requests for interviews and appearances to the women involved.
You can learn more about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League by reading articles from GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives and checking out the league’s website at http://www.aagpbl.org. The website provides the names, biographies, and baseball stats for the women players.
Note: An online collection of newspapers, such as GenealogyBank’s Historical Newspaper Archives, is not only a great way to learn about the lives of your ancestors – the old newspaper articles also help you understand American history and the times your ancestors lived in, and the news they talked about and read in their local papers, including more recent events. Did any of the women in your family play professional baseball?