Recently while digging around on the Library of Congress website I found a series of photographs of young women playing baseball. The photos were undated; they had a range between 1909 and 1923, nothing more specific. The uniforms resembled those worn by Ida Schnall’s New York Female Giants in 1913, though without the stitched logo on the sleeve. so sometime in the 1910s seemed most likely.
I wasn’t sure where these photos were taken — I didn’t recognize the ballpark — but then I saw two photos with Walter Johnson, and that at least fixed a location — Griffith Stadium. An unrelated photo of girls playing baseball in front of the Washington Monument (the header photo above) was dated — October 10, 1919 — and they wore the same uniforms, so a 1919 date for these photos would make sense.
The National Mall website suggests that the photo at the Washington Monument shows “probably a match between women who worked for various government offices related to World War I. […] Teams were formed by women from the War Risk, Navy, and Internal Revenue Offices. In October 1919, these teams played a tournament just after the end of the World Series, extending the baseball season in Washington, DC.” (There’s more on the National Mall website about baseball on the Mall here.)
That being the case, it’s possible that the women received pointers from the professionals — the Washington Senators — before the tournament, hence the photos of them taking practice at Griffith Stadium with actual Senators players.
The photos aren’t in great shape. Some of them were very dirty; one of the Walter Johnson photos is basically unusable as a consequence. I’ve rotated them and cropped them and, in a couple of instances, altered the brightness and contrast. The captions are mine, and the links are back to the originals on the Library of Congress website.
I have no names for these women. They were in their twenties then, and they’re all long gone now. Did they ever tell their children stories of when they were baseball players? When they took the field with Walter Johnson? When they stepped into the batter’s box and stared down a pitcher with the game on the line? On a quiet day, in a sunlit room, when bones creaked and arthritis pains were almost too much to bear, did they remember being young and athletic with a city cheering them on an October afternoon?
Time may have forgotten them and this moment lost to memory, but a century later, their photographs at least live on.
Clowning Around at First Base with Nick Altrock
Walter Johnson Demonstrating His Pitching Grip