During World War II, great numbers of young men were being drafted into the armed services leaving managers, owners and fans at Major League Baseball parks across the United States concerned. In danger of low attendance and lack of quality players, a girls’ softball league called the All-American Girls Softball (later Baseball) Professional League (AAGBBL) was formed to provide a solution. The League emerged in the spring of 1943 and continued until 1954.
Although by this time, women were participating in a variety of sports such as swimming, figure skating and cycling, baseball was considered a masculine pursuit. The AAGBBL maintained this traditional stance, recruiting women who were exceptional athletes, but insisting that they act as feminine as possible. For the first three years they attended charm school and required lipstick and hair be styled while on the field. They also were not allowed to smoke or drink in public and required a team chaperone. The AAGBBL uniform was also particularly feminine in its original long-skirt design. GRPM photos show that the skirt was shortened by the athletes who sometimes pinned or hemmed their uniforms to enable better mobility and speed on the field. The long skirt was not functional, but the short one also had its challenges. Despite these limitations, the AAGBBL athletes played strong and hard, breaking records and earning national recognition.
In Midwest communities such as Grand Rapids, Michigan, home to the AAGBBL team the Grand Rapids Chicks, the sport was immensely popular. Supported by leading business persons as spectator entertainment that was based on high moral and professional standards, the games attracted a diverse audience that appealed to all ages, classes and both sexes. The game was embraced as great family entertainment.
Due to a declining fan base and lack of financial support resulting from the changing post-WWII society, the League was forced to disband in 1954. During its 12-year history, over 600 young girls had an opportunity to play baseball for the AAGBBL at a professional level never seen before. The players had opportunities to develop their athletic skills, gain independence, travel, form long-lasting friendships and be role models for young women - all while getting paid to do it! The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League represents a unique aspect of the nation’s baseball history that changed the sport, but also the lives of women.
“All-American Girls Baseball League, Archival Collection” #66 Finding Aid, Grand Rapids Public Museum Collections. 2004. Print