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For this Women of Diversity Group Project, my group chose to write about female pioneers in sport. Within that category I chose female pioneers of softball. During this paper I will discuss the history of the sport and female participation in the sport. I will also give some statistics and make comparisons between females and males involved in softball and baseball.
Softball was developed as an indoor game in 1887 by George W.Hancock in Chicago. He used a 17-inch ball with outward turned seams. In the Spring of 1888, Hancock’s game moved outdoors. It was played on a small diamond and called indoor-outdoor. In 1889 Hancock published the first set of rules because of such high popularity in the sport. In 1895 a fire department officer with the name of Lewis Rober decided that he needed an activity to keep the firefighters active during their free time. Rober was unfamiliar with Hancock’s version of the game and in 1895 adapted the game for outdoor play. Rober used a 12-inch ball with a cover like a baseball. In 1900, Rober named the league Kitten League Ball.
Later in the century, the first women’s softball team was formed in 1895 at Chicago’s West Division High School. The team did not receive a coach for competitive play until 1899. At that time it was very difficult to develop interest among fans. About five years later women’s softball received more attention when “The Spalding Indoor Baseball Guide devoted a large section of the guide to the game of women’s softball (Cohen 52).” In 1933, the Chicago National Tournament also advanced the sport. At this competition, the male and female champions were honored equally. Also in 1933, “the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) was founded to govern and promote softball in the United States (World Book).” The ASA set up a committee that established one set of rules now used by teams in all parts of the world.
The International Softball Federation was founded in 1952 to govern International competition. “The Championships in 1965 developed women’s softball by making it an international game a step towards the Pan American Games and the Olympics (World Book).” Eleven years later, women softball players were given the closest equivalent to Major League Baseball with the 1976 formation of the International Women’s Professional Softball League. The contracts of the players ranged from $1,000-$3,000 per year.
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Throughout the years women’s softball, both fastpitch and slowpitch, has constantly been growing and becoming more competitive at an earlier age. “The ASA reports that it annually registers over 260,000 teams combining to form a membership of more than 4.5 million (Cohen 51).” Increased media coverage and the Olympics have greatly contributed to the progression of Women’s Softball. Vicki Schneider also commented that there is obviously some special appeal of fastpitch sofball that has allowed it to steadily grow in popularity through the years.
Throughout history softball has come a long way. “In 1943 Philip K. Wringly established the All-American Girls Softball League which was the forerunner of the AAGBL (All American Girls Baseball League) (Cohen 49).” Also at this time, women who signed up to serve in the armed forces during WWII brought their love of softball with them. They brought gloves, bats, and balls for use in their spare time. “In 1943 Time Magazine estimated that there were 40,000 semi-pro women’s softball teams (Macy 89).” At this time women’s baseball had basically the same rules as women’s softball except the distance of the baselines and pitching distances were longer in baseball and in baseball there was leading off unlike in softball.
In 1950 Margaret Dobson was the women’s fastpitch tournament batting champion for softball with a .615 batting average. “Betty Chapman, in 1951, became the first African American professional softball player (Macy 123).” She played outfield on the Admiral Music Maids of the National Girls Baseball League of Chicago. Although it was called Baseball League the women actually played softball. In 1975 the International Women’s Professional Softball League was formed. Player contracts ranged from $1,000-$3,000 per year. In 1980 the League folds due to financial problems.
The women who played Professional baseball during the war were placed with many rules upon them. These women had to go to Charm school to learn how to walk sit and speak with poise and class. The stronger and better women became at baseball, the more men would be concerned about their femininity. Even the media put focus on the women being soft and vulnerable. When men played baseball they did not have to go to masculine school to learn how to be more masculine. Putting these restrictions on women was not fair and just showed how unequal women were from men.
After researching and writing this paper on the Pioneers of Softball, I have learned about many issues that women faced in trying to become professional. I found it hard to focus just on the pioneers of softball because so many of the softball players also played baseball, especially when the men went to war. Also, many of the women who played baseball changed over to softball after the war. I learned a lot about the struggles and accomplishments of women in Softball and even Baseball. The Silver Bullets are just one Professional women’s baseball team. It would be nice to once again see another professional women’s League either in softball or baseball.
Cohen, Greta L. Women in Sport: Issues and Controversies; Newbury Park, Sago Publications. 1993,
Macy, Sue. Winning Ways: A Photohistory of American Women in Sports; New York, Scholastic publications. 1998 p88-146.
“Softball,” World Book Online Americas Edition, http://www.aolsvc.worldbook.aol.com/wbol/wbpage, November 12,2001