Researching Women in Baseball
For anyone thinking about delving into the exciting research area that encompasses women’s baseball, there are a number of things to think about and consider before even beginning. First, one should be aware of what some of the key resources are that have been published already. Reading books and using their bibliographies is always a great place to start. This will allow the researcher to be familiar with what has been done and where the holes in the research are. Next, one should begin to find out what is available in primary sources — what has already been identified and done and from there one can proceed into lesser known territory.
In looking for primary sources, researchers will become immediately aware of one of the key problems in delving into women’s baseball and that is the paucity of sources that have been used, as well as the problem in tracking down players many years later. Women get married and their names change, and this makes researching their playing days difficult … but not impossible.
So where does one begin? As mentioned earlier, anyone getting started needs to familiarize themselves with some of the history. A few good places to start include Gai Berlage’s groundbreaking history of women’s baseball entitled Women in Baseball (1994, Praeger), Women at Play (1993, Harcourt) by Barbara Gregorich and Baseball: The People’s Game by Harold and Dorothy Seymour (1991, Oxford). In the last couple of years, Jennifer Ring, Jean Ardell and Marilyn Cohen have added to this growing literature with No Girls in the Clubhouse (2009, McFarland) and Stolen Bases (2009, University of Illinois Press). Each of their books should also be consulted for their approaches as well as their sources. The Encyclopedia of Women and Baseball (2006, McFarland) is also a good place to start to get names of teams, individual players, owners, managers, umpires and the like. The bibliography is also quite extensive. The other significant work is Jean Ardell’s Breaking into Baseball which is well-researched and footnoted for researchers (2005, Southern Illinois University Press).
One can then begin to read a few more books with a narrower focus. For example, A Strong Right Arm by Michelle Green (2004, Puffin) will give the researcher a bit of an introduction to Mamie Johnson in the Negro Leagues. James Overmyer’s work, Queen of the Negro Leagues, on the Newark Eagles, gives one a starting place for owner Effa Manley (1998, Scarecrow Press). There are a couple of new biographies on players in the All-American League, including Dottie Wiltse Collins (2005, McFarland), Patricia Brown (2003, McFarland), Pepper Paire Davis and Ruth Stokes. Both Davis and Stokes have self-published their works so they are a little harder to find but worth the effort. Stokes’ book is entitled Ruthie, Brethren Girl (1996) and Davis’ book is called Dirt in the Skirt (2009).
Then there are the books that look at the women’s league as a whole, such as Susan Johnson’s When Women Played Hardball (1994, Seal Press) and Sue Macy’s A Whole New Ball Game (1995, Puffin). There is also Lois Browne’s The Girls of Summer (1993, Harper Collins). Merrie Fidler’s work grew out of her earlier thesis and gives a more scholarly approach to the league history in The Origins and History of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League (2006, McFarland). W. C. Madden has a book that gives the statistics that can be a good starting place. The Women of the All American League also includes brief bios of many of the players but is not complete (2005, McFarland).
John Kovach finished a photographic work on women’s baseball to complement the earlier work by David Kindred on the Colorado Silver Bullets, with Laura Wulf’s photographs. Kindred’s The Colorado Silver Bullets, For the Love of the Game does not have a lot of history but captures the images of the team (1995, Longstreet Press). Kovach’s book has some older images but mainly focuses on the more recent growth of women’s baseball in Women’s Baseball (Images) (2005, Arcadia).
The next place to begin to look would be to turn to newspapers and journals to see what might be available. The first thing one will discover is that many of the more traditional sources for baseball articles such as The Sporting News, Sports Illustrated and Baseball Digest have little to offer on women’s baseball. Researchers need to be a little more creative in thinking about where to look. Going to a university library or good public library is the place to start as you can access their search engines and databases that will take you beyond google archives and google scholar. For example, a good place to find articles on this topic can be Lexis-Nexis academic search as well as Jstor. Academic Search Premier can be another good tool to use.
Finding the right terms to search under is important when using these kinds of tools so you get good results and do not miss potential sources. For example, just looking up “women’s baseball” or “women in baseball” will not yield all your results. “Women and baseball”, “girls baseball”, “girls base ball”, “base ball for girls” and “little league for girls” can all add to your results. In addition to the more specific kinds of searches on teams, leagues, players, umpires, you should also look for “bloomer teams”, “bloomer girls and baseball”, “blondes and brunettes”, “19th century ladies base ball” and other similar terms. The American Periodicals Series online can be invaluable for 19th-century women’s participation and many libraries have access to this source.
Many libraries will also have access to a variety of newspaper search engines for local, statewide and national papers that can be useful. Again, the key is thinking about the search terms you use and not just settling on one or two familiar ideas. For example, The New York Times archives are fully searchable but so are the AP photo archives and Time Magazine as well as the Christian Science Monitor and the Chicago Tribune. If you are looking for information on specific teams, think about the local newspapers there or regional coverage. The Chicago Tribune works well because the AAGPBL was a Midwestern league. Rockford had a paper that covered the Rockford Peaches, just as Grand Rapids covered its team.
In looking for sources beyond the usual kinds of places, one should start with the National Baseball Hall of Fame. They have an excellent collection of materials on the players from the AAGPBL based on questionnaires turned in by the players themselves. They have information on girls and Little League participation, the Colorado Silver Bullets, as well as files on individuals such as Eleanor Engle, Effa Manley and Pam Postema. The Grand Rapids Public Library has materials from an exhibit in their collection related to the Chicks and their tenure in that city.
The Northern Indiana Historical Society has a large collection of official records and documents related to the All American League. They have finding aids available, but their collection is one you will probably want to make time to see if this is a topic you are interested in. It is a 3,200-plus piece collection consisting of photographs, equipment, uniforms, and the like from fourteen teams. Cornell University has the entire collection of materials related to the works of Harold and Dorothy Seymour which includes The People’s Game and its section on women’s baseball. The Racine Heritage Museum has photos and other materials related to the history of the Racine Belles. The Chicago History Museum has materials related to the National Girls Baseball Congress. Another good place to search is the Joyce Sports Research Collection at the Libraries of Notre Dame. The collection includes photographs from all the teams as well as individual players, championship photos and much more. Indiana University of Pennsylvania has the papers of former umpire Bernice Gera in their special collections. The Wisconsin Historical Society in its digital collection has Racine Belles yearbooks and postcards as well as the collection of interviews done for Diamond Angle. This is not an exhaustive list of research collections out there, but gives an idea about how one might go about looking for these kinds of sources.
Archival collections at all girls schools can be a valuable resource for general women’s baseball history as well as more specific teams such as the Vassar Resolutes. The Library of Congress is worth exploring, their photographic collections in particular. Getting involved with the Society for American Baseball Research and their Women in Baseball Committee is another excellent resource. In addition to their newsletters giving out information it is a great way to connect with others who may be able to help you find something you are looking for. SABR is also working with the AAGPBL Players Association in developing an online biographical resource with entries on all the women who played in the league.
If one is interested in the more recent accomplishments of women and baseball, then the explosion of resources on the Internet can be invaluable — though also hard to track down. Teams seem to come and go and their websites can disappear quickly, so be sure to save all materials you find. One of the longest standing women’s baseball organizations in recent history is the Pawtucket Slaterettes who have their own website and have lots of articles and news material available. Other teams such as the Chicago Gems, the Chicago Pioneers and the Washington Stars have their own individual websites. Leagues such as the New York Women’s Baseball Association, the Southern California Women’s Baseball League, the North American Women’s Baseball League, the Philadelphia area, California Women’s Baseball and the Eastern Women’s Baseball Conference all have their own websites with newspaper articles and photos and league statistics available. The AAGPBL has their own website with lots of photos, articles and links available here.
Canada and Australia have extensive online resources available regarding women’s baseball in their respective countries since it is much stronger and more developed than in the United States. This is a growing area of interest because there is a lot of research material available. In addition, Jim Glennie and Justine Siegal are key figures in promoting and supporting women’s baseball. They each have websites that showcase the history, teams, tournaments, etc., for women’s baseball. The American Women’s Baseball Federation has a lot of material available online at http://www.awbf.org. Most of these leagues and teams include contact information so you can contact them and begin to explore such options as interviewing players, league personnel, etc., which is still an area where little has been done in women’s baseball.
Women’s baseball research is still a wide open field with lots of exciting things to be discovered but it can be frustrating at times. Researchers need to familiarize themselves with the history of women in the game and then network. Reach out to those in the field, those playing the game today and ask for help.