The Girls of Summer
As the summer of 2018 slowly fades into our collective rear-view mirror, I thought a post on America’s summer sports pastime of baseball would be appropriate. But rather than talk about the boys of summer, I want to discuss a league of women who were way ahead of their time–the Girls of Summer. 2018 marks the 75th anniversary of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
Brought to the American forefront by the 1992 film A League of Their Own” (who can forget Tom Hanks’s famous line–‘There’s no crying in baseball!’), the the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League began out of necessity in 1943. Most of the men who would normally take the field each summer were off fighting World War II and America was in danger of losing its national pastime. The owner of the Chicago Cubs, Philip Wrigley, came up with the idea of a women’s league in an attempt to keep the ballparks open during the summers, and to give Americans more to think about than the war being waged across the sea.
In 1943, softball was the most popular sport in America, but the ladies who played the game on a professional level were earmarked as “loose women.” Wrigley wanted none of that type of image, so the idea quickly changed from a professional softball league to something on a grander scale. A women’s professional baseball league. The only modifications made were the distance from the pitcher’s mound was less than in baseball, and the basepaths would be shorter. Initially, 200 women were scouted from existing professional softball leagues and 60 were signed to play in the All-American Girls Baseball League, which became a hybrid of softball and baseball.
In fact, the women who were involved in the league felt it was their duty to keep up the nation’s morale during this dark time in our history. The league lasted for ten years (1943-1953) and provided a rare opportunity for more than 500 women to get paid for doing something they loved. The idea began as a women’s professional softball league but later morphed into the All-American Girls Baseball League. Four Midwest teams made up the league–the Rockford Peaches, the South Bend Blue Sox, the Racine Belles and the Kenosha Comets, playing a 108-game schedule. Later teams emerged from Kalamazoo to Milwaukee and even into Iowa. No crying and no softballs were allowed. This was a true baseball league, same as what the guys played. The rosters were limited to fifteen members, and they played six or seven games a week, so most of the girls played injured at least part of the time. But they realized what a gift they’d been given and enjoyed their time in the spotlight. They were paid salaries of $45 to $85 per week. They had playing cards made and fans organized themselves into fan clubs for each of the girls.
Managers for these Girls teams came from retired big league players who were too old to join the fighting men. Max Carey, a Hall of Fame player, served as president of the league.
Uniforms were skirts instead of the pants the men wore. Elastic shorts were worn under the skirts, and socks came up to the knee. Mr. Wrigley wanted his girls to look like girls. He sent them to charm school to teach them proper use of makeup and comportment. Even when they were off the field, they were expected to wear dresses. Wrigley developed a “Rules Of Conduct” for the ladies to adhere to. There would be no public drinking or smoking. Femininity was being sold. But it wasn’t the short skirts that drew in the crowds. It was the talent. At the peak of its success, attendance rose to over one million fans for the season.
The end of World War II coincided with the emergence of television, and the All-American Girls Baseball League faded away, like the last days of summer. As Dorothy Hunter, one of the girls, reflected on this unique moment in time, “I don’t think we’ll ever see anything like it again. It’s quite a shame.”
Today, the All-American Girls Baseball League members are memorialized, as are so many, in bobble-heads, as well as in many books on the subject. The women who played in the league are nearly all gone now, but their story should not be forgotten.
Cursed with poor depth perception, Becky Lower can’t throw or catch a ball to save her life. But she can write about women who have far better eyesight. Her western, Gambling On Forever, features a young lady who is more adept with a whip than most men. Here’s a bit about it:
When Elise Lafontaine spies her father’s missing saddlebag with its all-important papers slung over the shoulder of a man boarding a riverboat, she follows him, hoping to retrieve the contents. Her plans come to an abrupt halt when she is declined entry to the boat, since she is an unaccompanied female.
From his perch on the top deck, handsome riverboat gambler James Garnett witnesses her denied entry. When she shoots him a look of desperation, how can he resist those deep blue eyes and beautiful face? Of course, he comes to her rescue, pretending she is his fiancée—and she is allowed aboard.
Begrudgingly, Elise accepts James’s offer of help to win back the saddlebag and the papers by having him play poker on her behalf, certain the thieving Confederate brothers who stole the bag will lose everything to James. But can Elise be happy with only the saddlebag and its contents? Or has she already lost her heart to the dangerous gambler?
After a sultry kiss, Elise steals his money and the papers and jumps overboard. Then the games truly begin. Now, Elise stands at the biggest crossroads of her life—will she go her own way, fiercely independent and alone? Or will she wager everything on the man who holds her heart–GAMBLING ON FOREVER?