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March 23, 2017

Women’s baseball in Hamilton County

Women’s baseball in Hamilton County

By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian

It’s the time of year to start talking about baseball and, since it happens to still be Women’s History Month, I thought I would look at early women’s baseball in the county.  Unfortunately, although we know it existed, it’s difficult to get much information about it.  So far, there have only been two mentions in local papers that I’ve been able to find.  The first is from 1876:

Cicero Gazette, July 20, 1876:

“The young ladies of Cicero have formed a Base Ball Club.  They were playing on the grounds of the new school-house last Saturday.  They intend challenging the Noblesville Club.”

At this point in time, a woman’s team was noticeable, but not unusual.

Kokomo Tribune, September 8, 1870:

“We learn that there are several female Base Ball Clubs in this state.  There will be no end to match games if this be so.”

The next mention of women’s baseball is from 22 years later and is possibly referring to a traveling team called the “New York Champion Young Ladies Base-Ball Club”.  They played in several places in central Indiana in June of 1892.

Noblesville Democrat, June 10, 1892:

“Satisfactory arrangements could not be made with the female base ball manager for a game Saturday.”

However, the New York traveling team supposedly had a male manager, so it’s not certain if this was them or a local team.  There had been touring groups of female players for several years.  They were occasionally referred to as “Bloomer Girl” teams and sometime male players would earn some extra money by playing in women’s clothing.

Noblesville Independent, April 17, 1885:

“The female base ball club of Philadelphia, Pa., ranging from sixteen to eighteen years of age and with three years experience, we notice by the Anderson Herald have dates to play at Anderson on the 2nd day of June.”

These groups were not really approved of by the general public.  While the New York traveling team was noted for being ladylike, other could be crude.  A major concern was that some of the teams wore scandalous uniforms.

Fort Wayne Sentinel, September 18, 1875:

“Some mush-brained showman has organized a troupe of female base ball players and started them on a tour through the central portion of Illinois.  The girls are uniformed in jackets, pantaloons, and caps, like “real men”.  Their nines are called the Blondes and Brunettes.  Their games ordinarily last about five hours, during which time they play about three innings, with a score of some 3,000 to 2,598.”

(You may note some sarcasm there.)  Noblesville was known for being strict about improper behavior, even to the point of putting someone on trial for playing baseball on a Sunday, so It’s unlikely that there would have been support for an event like this.

Noblesville Republican-Ledger, May 7, 1886:

“When a female base ball club clad in jerseys, knee breeches, colored stockings, and red caps were playing ball in New Orleans on Sunday, a young man darted out of the crowd, and seizing one of the young women by the back of the neck, started to rush her off of the field.  “Police!” shouted the manager.  “Arrest that man!”  “Not much,” said the young man, “this girl is my sister and I’m going to take her home.”  And he did.”

Indianapolis News, May 5, 1904:

“Central Indiana towns are infested with female baseball clubs.  Female baseball is worse than female polo, and that was bad enough.  It is a travesty on the national game, and it is nothing but a cheap bid for shekels.”

(“Female polo” was played on roller skates and had a resemblance to modern roller derby.)  When women’s sports did become acceptable locally, it was at the high school level – notably basketball. Eventually, after the Second World War, the game of softball was developed and women could get back onto the diamond again.