The First Decade of Women’s Basketball

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Featuring over 200 articles and 125 illustrations, The Lost Century of Women’s Basketball is a time capsule of media reports from the birth of women’s basketball in the 19th century.

High school, college, and athletic club teams played in leagues and competed in tournaments long before the modern era of women’s sports. After a wild first decade, this brief flourishing of women’s basketball was tamped down by social pressure and the wide-open full-court game was tamed by a partitioned court and restrictive rules that remained intact until the passage of Title IX in 1972.

This volume includes coverage of Eastern women’s college teams at Smith, Wellesley, Vassar, Cornell and Bryn Mawr, the first intercollegiate basketball game between the Universities of Stanford and California, the outbreak of Hoosier hysteria in Fort Wayne, Indiana, and reports from across the country about this popular new sport for women.

Click here to view the Introduction and Table of Contents and Index.

Sample images from the book are displayed in (1) Women’s Basketball Art Gallery and (2) Women’s Basketball Photo Gallery, and several of the photos in (3) Women’s Basketball Team Photo Gallery.

Women began to play basketball within a few weeks after YMCA instructor James Naismith unveiled the game on March 11, 1892. The sport quickly spread to YWCAs, athletic clubs, high schools, and colleges across the country.

Basketball released women’s competitive passions more than any other sport. For players in the heat of a contest, scrambling on the floor and tussling over a loose ball were natural athletic reactions. But to many 19th century observers it was a shocking display unlike anything they had ever seen before, a disturbing eruption of unbridled physicality that society had tamped down for centuries.

The clash between ladylike decorum and athletic abandon troubled many educators, social commentators and sports authorities. Young women were expected to remain proper and demure in all public settings. While golf, tennis, bowling, ice skating, and other individual sports inspired acceptably feminine behavior, the action-packed team game of basketball, often played before a boisterous all-female audience, permitted a Victorian girls’ night out, and by many accounts the girls went wild.

Scandalous reports of name-calling, hair-pulling, cheating, arguing with referees, and fighting on the court were sensationalized in the press. Gymnasium balconies surged with loyal supporters clad in team colors, yelling organized cheers and exchanging volleys of taunts with rival fans. Critics of women’s sports were not the only ones who were alarmed. The same women who pioneered the game sought to rein it in soon after it was unleashed.

This volume includes excerpts from Senda Berenson’s influential booklet for Spalding’s Athletic Library, the basketball chapter from the first comprehensive book written about American women’s sports, and rare insight into the women who pioneered the game: Lucille Eaton Hill of Wellesley, Kate Anderson in Chicago, Helen Freeman in Iowa, Clara Baer in New Orleans, Lucile Hewett in Utah, and Margaret Livingston Stanton Lawrence, daughter of the suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, in New York.

This volume includes teams or reports from: Texas, Louisiana, Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Nebraska, Kansas, Wisconsin, Minnesota, California, Oregon, Washington, Utah, Wyoming, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Virginia and Hawaii.

The First Decade of Women’s Basketball is available on Amazon and Kindle.