Women Who Made History
By Samantha Carr
The women of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League got their start just like we did. They played baseball in their backyards with their fathers, brothers and friends.
But they didn’t realize at the time that playing ball was opening doors for women everywhere then – and in the future to have opportunities to follow their dreams.
Dolly Brumfield White, Sarah Jane “Salty” Ferguson, Joanne McComb and Gloria Elliot participated in a special interview about their memories of playing the AAGPBL on Saturday during the Baseball Hall of Fame’s Women’s History Month Celebration.
It is hard to imagine that most of these women went to schools that had no sports teams for women. Today, girls are offered varsity level sports in pretty much anything you can think of, as well as recreation leagues, travel teams and tournaments around the country.
“I would’ve enjoyed school a lot more if there were sports after school,” said Elliot.
Now this I can relate to. I remember writing out our lineup and doodling the softball field during science class on the day of a big game.
All four ladies told about how they first got into the league – and although every story was a little different, they all had support to help them get there.
White’s mother had to borrow her grandparents’ car and drive 60 miles to a tryout at age 13. Ferguson only had to travel to the local park with her father and a scout.
“We just took our gloves and a ball and I threw about five pitches and the scout began walking toward me and my father. I hadn’t even touched a bat or anything and I thought: ‘Boy, I’ve done something wrong here.'”
The scout offered her a formal tryout with the league.
“I don’t think my feet touched the ground after that,” said Ferguson.
Elliot had been working for an insurance company making $30 per week. When the league offered her $50 per week to start and the chance to make up to $100 per week, she jumped at it.
“They didn’t have to pay me at all to play ball. But I had a number of men who were playing minor league ball at the time tell me that we were making more money then they were,’ said Elliot.
Brumfield was very young during her time in the league and saved most of the money she was making.
“We would get about $3 a day for food and money for rent and we played games seven days a week with doubleheaders on Sundays and holidays, so there wasn’t much of an opportunity to spend it.”
With her savings, Brumfield was able to put herself through college.
“When I got out of the league and told my dad I wanted to go to college, he said, ‘We don’t educate girls.’ He later apologized to me, but that was the thinking at the time.”
The message that all four women gave to mothers and fathers across the globe is simply to support your daughters. It was that support that allowed them to have the opportunity of a lifetime.
The women of the AAGPBL followed a strict code of rules. They attended charm school, were not allowed off the bus without a skirt on and their hair had to be long enough to be seen from under a ballcap.
Quite different than it is today. McComb even remembers being a young girl and playing ball on the street with the boys.
“A neighbor came up to my mother and said, ‘Why does your daughter act like that? Why can’t she be more ladylike?’ My mother never said a word.”
Women have come a long way. One of the earliest women’s baseball teams, the Vassar College Resolutes who played during the late 1860s to early 1870s, played in long skirts that were thought to be useful in fielding ground balls. But I can’t imagine they were easy to move in.
Brumfield, Ferguson, McComb and Elliot all spent their lives helping women earn the opportunities that we have today, all while having careers and families of their own. They volunteered as coaches, began women’s sports and recreation teams, helped to establish Title IX and served as trailblazers showing just how much women were capable of.
“The farthest a girl was allowed to run when I was young was a half-mile,” said Brumfield. “Running a marathon would have been unthinkable.”
Women who play sports today as well as all others who have the opportunity to follow their dreams owe these four women – and the 596 other AAGPBL players – a great deal of thanks.
Samantha Carr is the manager of web and digital media at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum.