Sophie Kurys sliding into home, 2007 reproduction of c. 1940s original, photograph, 11 1/16 x 14 inches, private collection.
Sounds of America’s pastime: the crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, the cheers of “Atta girl!” While the 1992 film A League of Their Own introduced contemporary audiences to the World War II-era All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, women’s baseball actually began with the creation of the Vassar College team in 1866.
Women were paid to play ball less than a decade later, and a surprising number of women were included on 20th Century men’s teams. Linedrives and Lipstick: The Untold Story of Women’s Baseball documents this forgotten side of America’s pastime with 45 images and 10 objects selected from one of the nation’s largest collections of women’s baseball memorabilia. A 1910 postcard featuring the Boston Bloomers, “Ladies Champion Baseball Club of the World,” touts the game as “A High Class, Moral Amusement,” while a 1931 soap advertisement depicting a cherubic, skirted blonde sliding into first base asks, “What’s wrong with the world when girls just will be boys?”
These postcards of women at bat in long skirts, images of girls with scraped knees, and historic black-and-white photographs document more than a century of change for women’s baseball. Linedrives and Lipstick showcases many of the pioneering players, including Maggie Riley, Connie “Iron Woman” Wisniewski, and Ruth “Tex” Lessing, who garnered cheers from adoring fans – and braved critics’ jeers – as they barnstormed across the country from one game to the next.
While the boys of summer remained paramount in the minds of many fans, their female counterparts played with enthusiasm and pride on teams like the All-Star Ranger Girls, Philadelphia Bobbies, Rockford Peaches, Baltimore Black Sox Colored Girls, and Racine Belles. Their hard work and dedication earned them a place in the public eye.
From the covers of national publications including the Saturday Evening Post and Collier’s to advertisements for soap and other household products, women ballplayers became inspirational icons and national celebrities. From early games played before small, yet curious crowds in 1875 to the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League’s 1948 season that attracted 910,000 paying fans, the history of women’s baseball was as exciting and tumultuous as a fast-paced game.
Linedrives and Lipstick celebrates the legends and landmarks of the dedicated women athletes who hit, fielded, slid, and caught with passion. Curated by John Kovach, Saint Mary’s College archivist, Linedrives and Lipstick also features additional commentary by Barbara Gregorich, author of Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball (Harcourt, 1993), winner of the SABR-Macmillan award for best baseball research.
Venues that host this exhibition by June 30, 2016, may be eligible for a $1,000 education and public programming grant. Go to our Education Grants page for more information, or contact Kristy Peterson, education curator, at 816-421-1388, ext. 229, or kristy (at) maaa.org.