Shedding Light on Boston's Baseball Past
Baseball season is in full swing and this year marks the 100th anniversary of the 1918 World Series, a series that became a part of city lore ever since the "Curse of the Bambino" was cast on Boston. Baseball has a long history in Boston which precedes the Red Sox, the Curse of the Bambino, and even Fenway Park.
Bostonians have enjoyed playing baseball since the 1850s and in 1871 Boston acquired a team in the newly formed National Association of Professional Base Ball Players. Boston manager William Henry (Harry) Wright helped organize the National Association and went on to lead the Boston Red Stockings to four consecutive pennants. In 1874, Wright even took his unstoppable Red Stockings to England in hopes of popularizing baseball worldwide. By 1876 the National Association was replaced by the National League, a change which provided players more stability as they were bound to specific clubs.
Boston Braves Baseball Cards, circa 1949
(from the Boston Braves baseball collection, compiled by Richard O. Jones. Massachusetts Historical Society)
By the turn of the 20th century Boston had not one but two teams: the National League had the Boston Braves (formerly the Red Stockings, Red Caps, and Beaneaters), and the upstart American League had the Boston Americans. Each team had their own playing field in the city. The Braves played on the South End Grounds, moving in 1915 to Braves Field on Commonwealth Avenue (current site of Boston University's Nickerson Field). After 82 years in Boston, 1871-1952, the Braves moved to Milwaukee in 1953, and then to Atlanta in 1966. The Boston Americans played at the Huntington Avenue Baseball Grounds - located just over the railroad tracks from the South End Grounds - from 1901 to 1911, and was the site of the first modern World Series in 1903 when the Boston Americans played the Pittsburgh Pirates. In 1908, the moniker for Boston's American League team was officially changed to the Red Sox, and in 1912 the team relocated to the newly-built Fenway Park.
Cy Young and other baseball players at the Huntington Avenue Grounds
(from the Sweet family glass plate negatives, 1897-1911. Massachusetts Historical Society)
The above image of the Huntington Avenue Grounds was also featured on the MHS website as the July 2017 Object of the Month. Click on the link to see more information about the grounds, as well as suggestions for further reading about Boston's baseball past.
More interesting than the Boston Americans or the Boston Braves, though, is another local team that most have never heard of...The Boston Bloomers!
Women's baseball teams, called Bloomer Teams due to the preferred "bloomer" style of dress which allowed for easier play, were popular all across the country between 1890 and 1930. These women traveled the country, wore pants, and received pay as professional players, providing a level of independence that was uncommon in a time when such "priveleges" were often not extended to women.
Bloomer teams began in colleges in New England and New York, then spread across the country as hundred of women started playing baseball. The teams often consisted of seven women and two men who barnstormed the country playing local amateur, semi-pro, and minor league men's teams. Sadly, the Bloomer Teams lost popularity with the onset of World War I and the pioneering women of baseball were soon forgotten. Women such as Boston Bloomer Maud Nelson - a famous pitcher who went on to form and manage her own team in 1911, the Western Bloomer Girls - are only now gaining recognition for their contributions to the game.
If you are interested in learning more about the role of women in America's Pastime, consider joining us next month for The All-American Girls: Women in Professional Baseball, a panel discussion led by Gordon Edes, offical historian of the Boston Red Sox. Click the link to find out more the event and how to register.
When men across the country entered the draft for World War II, Philip Wrigley foudned the All-American Girls Professional Basebeall League in hopes of keeping baseball alive. The league started in 1943 and lasted until 1954. In 1992, the league was made famous by the feature film "A League of Their Own," and lead many to believe that this was the first time women took the field professionally. In truth, they were following int he footsteps of their talented foremothers, the Bloomer Girls.
To find out what else the MHS holds relating the nation's game, you can search our online catalog ABIGAIL, and when you find something interesting, consider Visiting the Library to see it in the reading room!
- Allen, Erin, "A League of Their Own," Library of Congress Blog. Access 16 May 2018 at https://blogs.loc.gov/loc/2013/04/a-league-of-their-own/.
- Gregorich, Barbara, "My Darling Clementine," Originally published in the May 2, 1996 issue of New City, accessed 16 May 2018 at http://www.barbaragregorich.com/index.php?subsub=%204.
- Official Website of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League Players Association, accessed 16 May 2018 at http://www.aagpbl.org/index.cfm/pages/league/12/league-history.
- Library of Congress, "Topics in Chronicling America - Bloomer Girls: All-girls novelty act sweeps country playing baseball," accessed 16 May 2018 at https://www.loc.gov/rr/news/topics/bloomergirls.html
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