- Bloomer Girls: Women Baseball Pioneers by Debra A. Shattuck
When it comes to baseball's genesis, the story once told of the game's invention by Abner Doubleday on a cow pasture in Cooperstown, New York. Historians have since proven this account to be mere myth, fabricated to promote baseball as "America's Pastime." It has also been long believed that baseball was, from the beginning, considered a "man's game," developed as a way for American males to develop their physical hardiness in addition to demonstrating their patriotism. Debra Shattuck's new book, Bloomer Girls: Women Baseball Pioneers, now reveals this idea to be another myth in the history of the American game, substantiating that women and girls actively played baseball from the start.
Focusing on the postbellum era through the end of the nineteenth century, Shattuck examines why baseball, which started as a gender-neutral sport, did not remain that way. The literature on baseball's early days continues to grow, yet there exists little reference to the involvement of women. Shattuck's book endeavors to rectify this as she opens readers' eyes to the reality that glorifying baseball as a "manly" pastime resulted in discrimination against women and girls on the diamond. Shattuck asserts that events of the late nineteenth century surrounding the game deliberately contributed to the attitude that baseball was intended for men only.
American exceptionalism prompted the argument that, being a masculine sport, women's participation in baseball went against the identity and functioning of American society. Women were society's pillars of morality, and their participation in a pastime that involved dirt, gambling, and other immoral activities went against that sentiment. Adversaries even went out of their way to paint women's involvement in the game in a negative light, such as through artwork depicting women ballplayers in skimpy clothing, in order to rally opposition. Additionally, the era's perceptions on women's health discouraged women and girls from taking part in strenuous activities for fear of damaging their reproductive organs and their overall "delicate" well-being.
Nevertheless, women played baseball, and they even did so professionally. As Shattuck details through the example of Sylvester Wilson's women baseball troupes, however, the experience of professional baseball was not always a positive one. Troupes such as Wilson's performed games for the crowd's entertainment, rather than for serious competition, and women were often jeered by audience members. Moreover, the treatment of players by Wilson himself ultimately landed him in jail for its impropriety. While Wilson's financial and sexual exploitation of his players might present an extreme example, it does underscore that women ballplayers did not have it nearly as good as their male counterparts. Unfortunately, due to the use of stage names by many women players, as well as inconsistencies in the narrative between primary sources, telling the individual stories of these women becomes difficult, so Shattuck focuses on constructing the overall story of nineteenth-century women's teams and ballplayers. Also making the task challenging were the attitudes of many sportswriters of the time, who tended to minimize the positive elements of females playing baseball and argued that women had no place on the diamond at all. [End Page 134]
Shattuck does point out that the history of nineteenth-century women's baseball was not entirely disheartening. Lizzie Arlington, for example, made a name for herself pitching for various men's teams. Women and girls at grade schools, colleges, and communal organizations formed their own baseball nines. Despite the emerging gendered narrative, as the popularity of baseball grew through the last part of the century, so did the number of girls' and women's teams. Discussion of true "bloomer girls" teams, unfortunately, only comprises a small portion of the book. Given the nature of this study, it became necessary for Shattuck to spend time discussing the initial establishment of baseball and follow-up development of the gendered narrative, which has been so lacking in baseball histories prior to this investigation. Nevertheless, additional...