When the first game of the 2016 World Series begins on Tuesday night, every player on the field will be, as has always been the case with Major League Baseball, a man. But female ballplayers aren’t just the stuff of fiction or even wartime necessity.
Case in point: the New York Female Giants, who came together in 1913.
A New York Times article from that year explained that the Female Giants comprised 32 players who competed against one another on two teams, the Reds and Blues. Historian Michael Carlebach notes in his book Bain’s New York that it seems likely that the Giants were created by John McGraw, manager of the MLB’s Giants, then a New York team. The young women of the team, mostly high school students, were a curiosity and perhaps seen by many as a mere stunt—but the athletes played for real.
It was an important time for women in sports; for example, the 1912 Olympics saw women competing in more strenuous activities (swimming, notably) than they had before. Team captain Ida Schnall—who was also a competitive diver who had hoped to compete at those Olympic Games—expressed her thoughts on the subject in a letter to the Times:
This is not from a suffragette standpoint, but a feeling which I had for a long time wished to express. I read in the newspapers wherein James E. Sullivan is again objecting to girls competing with the boys in a swimming contest. He is always objecting, and never doing anything to help the cause along for a girls’ A.A. U. [Amateur Athletic Union]. He has objected to my competing in diving at the Olympic games in Sweden, because I am a girl. He objects to a mild game of ball or any kind of athletics for girls. He objects to girls wearing a comfortable bathing suit. He objects to so many things that it gives me cause to think he must be very narrow minded and that we are in the last century. It’s the athletic girl that takes the front seat to-day, and no one can deny it. I only wish that some of our rich sisters would consider the good they can do with only a small part of their wealth and start something like an A.A.U. for girls and bring out healthy girls that will make healthy mothers.
Schnall later moved to California to be in the movies, and organized another women’s baseball club there.