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STANDARDS

Common Core: RH.6-8.1, RH.6-8.2, RI.6-8.1, RI.6-8.2, RI.6-8.3

C3 (D2/6-8): Civ.6, Civ.12, Eco.1, His.1, His.2, His.3, His.4, His.5, His.13

NCSS: Time, continuity, and change; Culture

Enjoy this free article courtesy of Junior Scholastic, the Social Studies classroom magazine for grades 6–8.

A Whole New Ball Game

Seventy-five years ago, when many pro baseball players went off to war, female ballplayers stepped up to the plate

In May 1943, Betsy Jochum stepped onto the diamond at Wrigley Field, the home of the Chicago Cubs. She and nearly 300 other women from across the United States and Canada had been invited to try out for the first professional baseball league for women.

“Women playing on Wrigley Field—could you imagine that?” says Jochum, now 97.

Not many people could imagine that 75 years ago. Back then, a woman’s place was supposed to be in the home, not on an athletic field. But World War II (1939-1945) changed things. After the U.S. joined the war in 1941, so many men went off to fight that it forced Americans to rethink workplace gender roles. That helped open the door for the creation of what came to be known as the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

In May 1943, Betsy Jochum stepped onto the diamond at Wrigley Field. That is the home of the Chicago Cubs. She and nearly 300 other women from across the United States and Canada had been invited to try out for the first professional baseball league for women.

“Women playing on Wrigley Field—could you imagine that?” says Jochum, now 97.

Not many people could imagine that 75 years ago. Back then, a woman’s place was supposed to be in the home. It was not supposed to be on an athletic field. But World War II (1939-1945) changed things. After the U.S. joined the war in 1941, so many men went off to fight that it forced Americans to rethink workplace gender roles. That helped open the door for the creation of what came to be known as the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

At those 1943 tryouts, only 60 players made the cut for the original four teams. Jochum, who had grown up playing softball in Cincinnati, Ohio, impressed the scouts with her speed, hitting, and fielding. She was chosen to play for the Blue Sox of South Bend, Indiana.

Jochum and the other players had been selected for two important reasons: to boost Americans’ morale during wartime and to keep the national pastime alive while millions of men were fighting overseas.

Long before the 1972 passage of a law called Title IX banned gender discrimination in high school and college athletics (see “A Level Playing Field?” sidebar, below), fueling the rise of women’s professional sports, these pioneering women proved that they belonged in the ranks of pro athletes.

At those tryouts in 1943, only 60 players made the cut for the original four teams. Jochum had grown up playing softball in Cincinnati, Ohio. She impressed the scouts with her speed, hitting, and fielding. She was chosen to play for the Blue Sox of South Bend, Indiana.

Jochum and the other players had been selected for two important reasons. One was to boost Americans’ morale during wartime. The other was to keep the national pastime alive while millions of men were fighting overseas.

These pioneering women proved that they belonged in the ranks of pro athletes. This was long before a law called Title IX fueled the rise of women’s professional sports. The law, passed in 1972, banned gender discrimination in high school and college athletics (see “A Level Playing Field?” sidebar, below).

New Opportunities

During her first season with the Blue Sox, Jochum earned $50 per week. That was more than a lot of jobs paid back then, but far less than male major-league ballplayers made. Still, Jochum says, “it was quite an opportunity to get paid to play a game. It was the greatest feeling in the world.”

During her first season with the Blue Sox, Jochum earned $50 per week. That was more than a lot of jobs paid back then. But it was far less than male major-league ballplayers made. Still, Jochum says, “it was quite an opportunity to get paid to play a game. It was the greatest feeling in the world.”

When Jochum was growing up, no professional sports leagues existed for women, and women were kept out of jobs in most industries. But by 1943—two years into the U.S. war effort—more than 10 million men were fighting overseas. That left a shortage of workers on the home front. As a result, the U.S. government started the Rosie the Riveter ad campaign to draw more women into the workforce (see “Girl Power!,” at left). More than 6 million women answered the call, stepping up to fill many jobs previously done only by men. Many women went to work in factories, where they built weapons, ships, and planes to be used against Germany, Italy, Japan, and the other Axis Powers.

The war was taking a toll on pro baseball as well. By 1943, more than half of all major-league players had traded their baseball uniforms for combat fatigues. Attendance at games was dropping. Kenesaw Mountain Landis, baseball’s first commissioner, even considered suspending baseball altogether.

In 1942, Landis wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, asking for his advice. Roosevelt’s reply urged him to keep players on the field.

“I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep base­ball going,” the president wrote. “There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before. And that means they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work.”

When Jochum was growing up, no professional sports leagues existed for women. Women were also kept out of jobs in most industries. But in 1943, more than 10 million men were fighting overseas. It was two years into the U.S. war effort. The fighting left a shortage of workers on the home front. As a result, the U.S. government started the Rosie the Riveter ad campaign. Its goal was to draw more women into the workforce (see “Girl Power!,” at left). More than 6 million women answered the call. They stepped up to fill many jobs previously done only by men. Many women went to work in factories. They built weapons, ships, and planes to be used against Germany, Italy, Japan, and the other Axis Powers.

The war was taking a toll on pro baseball as well. By 1943, more than half of all major-league players had traded their baseball uniforms for combat fatigues. Attendance at games was dropping. Kenesaw Mountain Landis, baseball’s first commissioner, even considered suspending baseball altogether.

In 1942, Landis wrote to President Franklin D. Roosevelt. He was asking for advice. Roosevelt replied, urging him to keep players on the field.

“I honestly feel that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going,” the president wrote. “There will be fewer people unemployed and everybody will work longer hours and harder than ever before. And that means they ought to have a chance for recreation and for taking their minds off their work.”

AAGPBL Players Association, Inc./AP Images

Sophie Kurys of the Racine Belles

For “Ladies” Only

But how would they keep fans interested in the game when so many top players were away at war? Philip K. Wrigley, owner of the Chicago Cubs and the Wrigley chewing gum company, came up with a solution: create a women’s league that combined baseball and softball, with its own modified rules. He hoped women would help keep the national pastime going—just as they were carrying on the work in offices, on farms, and in factories.

Wrigley sent scouts to softball and baseball fields across the U.S. and Canada to recruit women for the new league. All the players had to be white, just as in the major leagues, which refused to accept black athletes until 1947.

But how would they keep fans interested in the game when so many top players were away at war? Philip K. Wrigley was the owner of the Chicago Cubs and the Wrigley chewing gum company. He came up with a solution. His idea was to create a women’s league that combined baseball and softball. The league would have its own modified rules. He hoped women would help keep the national pastime going. They would keep it alive in the same way that they were carrying on the work in offices, on farms, and in factories.

Wrigley sent scouts to softball and baseball fields across the U.S. and Canada. He wanted them to recruit women for the new league. All the players had to be white. This was the same as in the major leagues, which refused to accept black athletes until 1947.

“It was quite an opportunity to get paid to play a game. It was the greatest feeling in the world.”

The scouts were searching for athletic talent, but they also paid close attention to the women’s looks and behavior. Wrigley and his partners thought fans would accept the idea of a women’s baseball league only if the players reflected the feminine standards of the era.

The players were expected to act “ladylike,” both on the field and off. They had to be accompanied by a team chaperone at all times, and always had to wear “feminine attire.” They even had to wear shorts and a skirt while playing, which often left them bruised and bloody from sliding into bases. During the league’s first two seasons, the women also had to attend charm school, where they were taught how to walk, talk, sit “like a lady,” and put on makeup.

Some players resented the focus on their femininity instead of their athleticism. But to play ball, several former players recalled, they had to “look like women, play like men.”

The scouts were searching for athletic talent. But they also paid close attention to the women’s looks and behavior. Wrigley and his partners thought fans would accept the idea of a women’s baseball league only if the players reflected the feminine standards of the era.

The players were expected to act “ladylike,” both on the field and off. They had to be accompanied by a team chaperone at all times. And they always had to wear “feminine attire.” They even had to wear shorts and a skirt while playing. This often left them bruised and bloody from sliding into bases. During the league’s first two seasons, the women also had to attend charm school. They were taught how to walk, talk, and sit “like a lady,” and put on makeup.

Some players resented the focus on their femininity instead of their athleticism. But to play ball, several former players recalled, they had to “look like women, play like men.”

V for Victory

The league played its first games on May 30, 1943. On opening day, only 700 people watched Jochum and the Blue Sox defeat the Rockford Peaches, 4-3, at a stadium in Rock­ford, Illinois. Many people at the first games went only for the novelty of seeing women play baseball.

“We got them out there maybe because of our uniforms, maybe because of the publicity,” said Lavonne “Pepper” Paire, a former player, in 1992. “But we kept them there because we played damn good baseball.”

Indeed, they began winning over fans with their talents. Wally Pipp, a former New York Yankees first baseman, called one player, Dorothy “Dottie” Kamen­shek, “the fanciest fielding first baseman I’ve ever seen, man or woman.”

The players didn’t just help take Americans’ minds off the war. They captured the patriotic mood of the country too. During the playing of the national anthem before each game, the two teams lined up from home plate along the first and third baselines in the shape of a V for victory. Players also took part in exhibition games at Army training camps and hospitals.

By 1945, the year the war ended, the women’s league’s popularity had exploded. It reached a peak three years later, expanding to 10 teams and attracting more than 900,000 fans in 1948.

The league played its first games on May 30, 1943. On opening day, only 700 people watched Jochum and the Blue Sox defeat the Rockford Peaches, 4-3. They played at a stadium in Rockford, Illinois. Many people at the first games went only for the novelty of seeing women play baseball.

“We got them out there maybe because of our uniforms, maybe because of the publicity,” said Lavonne “Pepper” Paire in 1992. She was a former player. “But we kept them there because we played damn good baseball.”

Indeed, they began winning over fans with their talents. Wally Pipp was a former New York Yankees first baseman. He called one player, Dorothy “Dottie” Kamenshek, “the fanciest fielding first baseman I’ve ever seen, man or woman.”

The players did not just help take Americans’ minds off the war. They captured the patriotic mood of the country too. During the playing of the national anthem before each game, the two teams lined up from home plate along the first and third baselines in the shape of a V for victory. Players also took part in exhibition games at Army training camps and hospitals.

By 1945, the year the war ended, the women’s league’s popularity had exploded. It reached a peak three years later. It expanded to 10 teams and attracted more than 900,000 fans in 1948.

A Lasting Legacy

Jochum, who had earned the nick­name “Sock ’Em Jochum” for her hitting, retired from the Blue Sox after the 1948 season. She used the money she’d saved during her playing career to pay for college and later became a teacher.

In 1954, after 12 seasons, the league ended. After the war, more-traditional gender roles returned as women were expected to go back to being homemakers and let returning troops have the jobs. Also, interest in the women’s league faded once the new medium of TV started airing men’s major-league games, dramatically increasing their popularity.

Yet by then, the idea of women in pro sports had begun to take hold. In 1950, the Ladies Professional Golf Association teed off for the first time. Women have been making great strides in athletics ever since (see "Women in Sports" timeline, above).

Today, players like Jochum are remembered as sports pioneers. For more than a decade, they shone on the ball field, changing the way Americans viewed female athletes.

As Jochum says: “They realized that women can play as well as the men.” 

Jochum, who had earned the nickname “Sock ’Em Jochum” for her hitting, retired from the Blue Sox after the 1948 season. She used the money she had saved during her playing career to pay for college and later became a teacher.

In 1954, after 12 seasons, the league ended. After the war, more-traditional gender roles returned. Women were expected to go back to being homemakers and let returning troops have the jobs. Also, the new medium of TV started airing men’s major-league games, dramatically increasing their popularity. Interest in the women’s league faded.

Yet by then, the idea of women in pro sports had begun to take hold. In 1950, the Ladies Professional Golf Association teed off for the first time. Women have been making great strides in athletics ever since (see "Women in Sports" timeline, above).

Today, players like Jochum are remembered as sports pioneers. For more than a decade, they shone on the ball field. They changed the way Americans viewed female athletes.

As Jochum says: “They realized that women can play as well as the men.”

CORE QUESTION: How did being a nation at war help shape new attitudes toward women in sports?

Like what you see? Then you'll love Junior Scholastic, our Social Studies classroom magazine for grades 6–8.

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