Mills: Those nimble American girls

From SABR member Dorothy Seymour Mills at The National Pastime Museum on October 7, 2013:

Throughout American history, girls and women have often been overlooked. “Remember the ladies,” Abigail Adams told her husband. But he didn’t, and they were left out of the most exciting events of their time. 

Sometimes those women had influence anyway, taking part under the radar. At schools around the country, girls played baseball with boys as early as the 1830s, before New York sporting journals began proclaiming baseball  the national game. As for young women, who played at least as early as the 1860s, those who attended the first American colleges set up for women, the Seven Sisters of New York and New England, knew how to play when they got to college. 

Before these institutions were set up for them, women had been discouraged from studying at the college level. The common belief of the time was that women were not strong enough to perform college-level work, so their health would surely break down if they were required to work at higher learning. So those who created these institutions did it not so much to train their students’ minds as to strengthen them physically.

A few people, like Matthew Vassar, disagreed with the general view women’s lack of strength. Vassar, an extremely successful brewer, let his niece persuade him that young women could manage college work if their physiques were strengthened. So he established a women’s college in New York State, with the understanding that the work should be designed to build up their bodies.

At Vassar and the other institutions established for women in the mid-1800s, teachers led the young women in physical exercises. After a while, the women got tired of these and asked for sports and games instead. Like baseball.

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Originally published: October 7, 2013. Last Updated: October 7, 2013.