• Meredith Whiteley

A Little Baseball History

Only a shred of me believed Grandma Ollie played baseball. I’d never heard about women playing before the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League heroines started during WWII, but that was not surprising. I knew from doing women’s history that women’s lives were often unrecorded. A whole archive I once looked at had only a dozen or so women listed. Journals, letters, and photos of women were filed under husband’s or father’s name.

Finding the story of women’s baseball before WWII wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be. In 1994 Gai Ingham Berlage published Women in Baseball: The Forgotten History. The book covers the span of over a century, from well-to-do college girls in the Northeast playing right after the Civil War to efforts by women in the nineteen nineties to compete on men’s professional teams. The main focus is on the nineteen thirties to the nineties.

Rich girls weren’t the only ones playing in the early years. Barbara Gregorich, in Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball, talks a lot about “Bloomer Girls.” Beginning in 1875, these professional, paying clubs put on exhibitions around the country, usually playing against local men’s teams. They were storming the country in Ollie’s days. A great example for local girls who could afford a ticket.

Berlage and Gregorich gave me enough background to believe Ollie Brooks probably did play baseball. I just needed to find the information. I thought I would start with the Sports pages of the local newspapers. It should come as no surprise there was no coverage of any girls’ sports in those papers. What was a surprise was there was almost no coverage of local sports at all. And, there were no Sports pages.

That was my first clue that finding Ollie Brooks playing baseball might be harder than I bargained for.

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