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An Examination of the Literature on the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League

After the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States joined the fighting of World War II. Major men’s baseball leagues began to worry about the future of professional baseball since a large number of major and minor league players had either been drafted or enlisted. This is when Phillip Wrigley, owner of the Chicago Cubs and an executive in Major League Baseball, introduced the idea of creating a female baseball league to fill the void. Thus, leading to the creation of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Established as a non-profit organization in 1943, the league was seen as a form of low-cost entertainment for the American people to keep their patriotic spirits boosted, as well as a way to save the professional sport of baseball from being pushed from the public mind. Teams were based in smaller towns where people spent their days in factories and could escape the wartime realities momentarily while watching these games, which they succeeded in, amassing large numbers of fans that rivaled the men’s Major Leagues. Originally planned for the league to play softball, concern that fans would not be interested in the less challenging sport led to incremental seasonal adaptations of the rules to closer fit those of baseball. The women were expected to maintain femininity on and off the field and were accompanied by a chaperon during the seasons. During the totality of the league’s existence, there were fifteen teams spread out from the East to the Midwest. Following the peak 1948 season, financial issues, the lack of recruitable players lead and then return to normal life after the end of World War II led to the downfall and eventual end of the league in 1954.

There are relatively few pieces of literature written on the women’s baseball league. The release of the movie A League of Their Own in 1992 was the catalyst for the literature. The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was launched into the focus of the American people in a big way for the first time after the league disbanded in 1952. In the following decade, almost two dozen works were introduced not only for scholars, but also the general public. There are a few divides between the different written works. The first, mainly seen in the introductions and prefaces of the books, is the mention of the movie. There are authors that state A League of Their Own as the incentive that spurred them to research and write their book and discuss the impact of the movie. However, the other half of the works do not have any mention of the movie, using their past with the sport as their reasoning behind writing. The other major divide is the extent to which the league is mentioned. After the movie’s release, there was also a large release of books on women in baseball. Even though the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was a huge turning point in the story of women in baseball and the introduction of women into rougher sports, these books that are supposedly about women in baseball focus only on the time before or after the league. The pieces of literature that are of significance to the history of the league are few and far between, and of those pieces, all follow similar surface-deep patterns of the positives and negative situations that the women’s league faced.

There is little variety in the authors, most of the literature was written by non-scholar women. Each of these authors cites their childhood interest/interaction with the league as what prompted them to write their books in their introductions. There are a few notable exceptions to the theme of authors; the 2013 book We Were the All-American Girls a contemplation of interviews from a select number of players, was written by Jim Sargent who holds a Ph.D. in history and has spent his life in the field. When Women Played Hardball was written in 1994 by Susan E. Johnson, whose position as a sociology professor affected her perspective on the league although she also cited her interest in the sport and league as a child. The most notable theme among the non-scholarly authors is the organization of their books. Lois Browne’s Girls of Summer, published in May 1992, was printed two months before the release of A League of Their Own and is the only book that shows detail-oriented interest in the league before the movie. It is therefore referenced in several later works as it was the first real piece of literature on the topic and used almost as an organizational guide to the succeeding literature. Girls of Summer is filled with a sundry of angles on the existence of the league. Each of the topics that Browne explored during her time as a freelance journalist only included enough context to get the general public to the next paragraph, and by the conclusion feel as if they know all they need to know about the league. This pattern of surface-deep examination of the topics surrounding the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League is not extinguished in other pieces of literature and does not contextualize the rich subject that is the league.

When looking at the different topics that are covered in the literature, they can be relatively split into three historical fields: World War II history, women’s history, and sports history. There is overlapping of the three fields in all published literature but with no dedication to anyone specific subject. None of these fields of history include the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, despite when looking at the complexity of the league and its impact on these subjects it was a huge part of history. The books on the league almost create their own specific area in historiography, all topics being rerouted back to their relation to the league. Of the three fields, women’s history is the most prominent, while sports focus on the notorious major league men, leaving World War II history with little to no mention.

The All-American Girls Baseball League was conceptualized when the United States became involved in World War II, specifically when a draft was instated shortly before the attack on Pearl Harbor. Merrie A. Fidler’s 2006, The Origins and History of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, is the only monograph to mention the war in a more substantial matter other than brief mentions and the connection to women’s societal positions during the war. “President Roosevelt supported the continuance of Major League Baseball as a national morale booster. [1]” Even though President Roosevelt did not play a specific hand in the creation of the women’s league his support on the importance and continuation of baseball during wartimes gives insight into the fact that there are more connections to World War II. A topic covered by most authors, including Fidler and Browne, is that the reason baseball was struggling at this time is that major and minor league male players were either being drafted or enlisted. Joe DiMaggio was a center fielder for the Yankees who enlisted in the war. He and other major ballplayers are brought up alongside the subject of World War II, despite having no connection to the league. This straying from the league indicating that the authors are not just focused on the league is confusing, to say the least. The books do not focus on one specific subject and the different topics are all eventually redirected back to the league, but the intermittent inclusion of specific historical field information seems to occur with the presence of men.

The topic of gender is the most present throughout the literature. Repeatedly each topic is turned back to how the women were perceived by the public. “Nevertheless, the tension between appearance and the game, between the feminine image and the competitive reality, was a constant of the players lives.[2]” A gendered perspective is found in all pieces of work, each portraying a slightly different adaptation. The strict rules that the women had to follow encompass the women’s and gender issues that the players of the league faced. All of the books in one way or another bring up topics such as uniforms and charm school. The women had to wear knee-length skirts with tight shorts underneath and had to have their hair done and makeup on for each game. Time in charm school was also a requirement for all players, despite all pieces discussing charm school in some detail Johnson and Sargent included perspectives from the players to provide more in-depth information as to why charm school was a requirement, beyond keeping up appearances. The women were expected to be a source of entertainment and it was believed that they could not achieved this with tomboy-like behavior. Another important topic is the chaperones who were hired to ease the minds of the players fathers and husbands, as well as keeping up the appearance of the women’s femininity for society. “Chaperons worked almost round the clock, from breakfast wake-up call to late-night bed check (or lonely vigil in the hotel lobby, waiting for stragglers to return).[3]” The word chaperon appears dozens of times in each book, but these mentions tend to just be passing by remarks or simple acknowledgment of their existence. Browne describes them as the “unsung heroes” of the league who had a number of varying jobs, presenting them as an integral part of the league, and is the only author to dedicate even a few specific pages to the chaperons. Despite all this, there is a minuscule number of perspectives from the chaperons, as well as specificities on what their job entailed and their involvement and impact, and them being an integral part of the league this is an angle that needed to be more thoroughly explored.

Sexuality is a topic that is also discussed in detail in Browne’s book. This is the only literature to focus on the topic for a section of the book, which is surprising that it is the only to do so when later works such as Filder’s references Browne’s book and includes almost all of the same angles. In the 1940s and 1950s non-heterosexual behavior was vehemently detested and ignored by society. Browne brings up the point that a large number of the girls, especially the incoming rookies, had never even heard of the concept of lesbianism until joining the league and the older women had to explain it to them and look out for them. The owners, managers, and chaperones did everything in their power to keep rumors of lesbianism far from the teams. Considering Browne bringing up the topic indicates that it was large enough part of the league to be mentioned alongside other important topics and there being no detailed mention in other pieces of literature, this is an angle that of research that could bring up an interesting perspective not only into the league, but into the society of the time. Another topic of women’s history that is barely mentioned is the fact that a large number of these women were married, and a number of them were mothers. There are the same few mentions of women and their husbands making deals so they could play, or leaving the league after the war was over, but that is it. There are not any more details on the interactions between the women’s marriages and their baseball careers. Also, there is no information on how some women handled motherhood while playing a traveling for a large chunk of the year.

One person who is thoroughly researched in literature on the topic is Phillip Wrigley. Browne has an entire chapter dedicated at the beginning of the book that is not just Wrigley’s involvement in the league but could be considered a miniature biography of his life. He frequently referenced throughout other works and he did play a large role in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League continuation even after selling the league in 1945. The emphasis on the men involved in the league, however, does not just end with Phillip Wrigley. Browne and Fidler both go into more detail into the men who owned, coached or were briefly involved in the league. When looking at the difference between popular and scholar works, how the important men were discussed show the differences. For example, Browne’s book versus Johnson’s, Browne dedicated chapters and paragraphs on the male managers, owner, etc. and how the league centered around them, where Johnson does look at these different men but directs her research and evidence back to the women.

Each piece of literature states that the leagues existence came to be in order to save the professional sport of baseball from disappearing in the eye if the pubic. They achieved this and so much more, the public even being more interested in the women’s league than what was left of the men’s league after the draft. This is the first and only real time that women played professional baseball, which was done at a time where they were really the only source of baseball to the public.[4] Despite this, the only mention of women and their impact on baseball can only be seen occasionally in some baseball-related encyclopedias. The league was originally meant to be a softball league, the more socially acceptable alternative to baseball for women. Phillip Wrigley, fearing the public would not be as interested adjusted the games set up, something that continued to happen until the end of the league. All of the literature tracks the rapid changes being made to the game as it evolved from softball to baseball. A pattern seen in the books about these changes is that even though the changes were meant to be good for their league, it was another source of tension that led to the downfall of the league. Each work contains information on the different aspects leading to the downfall of the league; however, they all have different focuses from the players’ perspective, the financial aspects, and the basic factual ending. The contribution to sports history that the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League made is a topic that deserves scholarly research.

There is a multitude of angles that need significant exploration in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. Each of these pieces of literature only seems to scratch the surface of each topic, explaining just enough to validate its inclusion in the book about the league. The only monograph to go into detail about the specific teams is Johnson, which she did by focusing on players from the Rockford Peaches and the Fort Wayne Daisies. When looking at what is covered by Johnson in comparison to Browne or Fidler, the book shows that it has been written by a scholar in its deeper exploration of some topics, but important topics are missing that can only be explained by the focus on two specific teams. The different books attempt to cover as much as they can, trying to fit the entire complexity of the league into a couple of hundred pages reduces not only the number of details but the importance of each topic. It would be worth future scholars looking at one or two topics at a time and researching everything that they can offer to build a better picture of how the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League is a valuable part of history.

Another major issue of the available literature is the divide between popular and scholarly works. The popular works significantly outnumber the scholarly. This is clear when looking not only at the style of writing but the back and forth between topics that only look at the information that was easily accessible. The league impacted World War II, women’s, and sport’s history in a large way, but is not looked at whatsoever by scholars. All of the literature written was released in the decade following the premiere of A League of Their Own and not brought up again in any significant manner in the following decades.

Despite being created to, and succeeding at, saving professional baseball while amassing a large following in the United States, Canada, and Mexico; the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League is left out of not only the general history of baseball, but the history of women in baseball. It took thirty-four years after the ending of the league for the Baseball Hall of Fame to recognize women’s professional baseball. Each piece of literature contains dozens of the same topics, which only allow the authors to go so far in depth into each topic. This has left large gaps of information and shows that the different angles need more in-depth examination by scholars. The lack of scholarly works in this field greatly affects how the league is portrayed because the historiography is led by popular works. There is so much more to be explored about an impactful part of American history that has been hidden in the shadows and forgotten about.

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