Baseball’s Women on the Field During World War II – Society for American Baseball Research (2024)

Baseball’s Women on the Field During World War II – Society for American Baseball Research (1)

Jean Faut, a child of the mid-1920s, was destined to become one of two All-American Girls Base Ball League players to earn MVP honors twice. She noted that during the Depression and the beginning of World War II, there wasn’t much for kids to do in East Greenville, Pennsylvania, except play ball or go swimming because “You couldn’t go anywhere. You couldn’t get any gas. So I played a lot of baseball.”1 While Jean grew up playing baseball, most future All-American players, like Cincinnati’s Dorothy “Kammie” Kamenshek, Flint, Michigan’s Sophie Kurys, the LA area’s Dorothy “Snookie” Harrell Doyle, and Regina’s Mary “Bonnie” Baker grew up playing a lot of softball.

From its inception in the late 1880s, softball was touted as a sport for girls and women as well as for boys and men because its large, soft ball (16”) and short base paths didn’t require significant physical exertion which might threaten girls’ and women’s reproductive capacity—a major concern of the time. In concert with the Great Depression of the 1930s, softball mushroomed into one of the major participant sports in the country with over two million male and female players, young and old. During the ’30s, the WPA (Works Progress Administration) contributed to the construction of more than 8,000 parks that could incorporate softball fields, which were smaller than baseball fields; the Amateur Softball Association and the National Softball Association emerged to promote men’s and women’s national championship tournaments; industrial semipro teams proliferated; and the innovation of lighted fields and enforced leisure provided the unemployed and those with shortened working hours the opportunity to play a condensed version of major-league baseball during its Golden Age.2

When World War II engulfed the United States in December 1941, the country’s first massive military mobilization began. The loss of men in the workforce necessitated the employment of women to substitute in traditionally male occupations throughout society. To name a few,“Women were riveters, spot and torch welders, hydraulic press operators, crane operators, shell loaders, bus drivers, train conductors, bellhops, lifeguards, lumberjacks … cowgirls, section hands, coal mine checkers, car washers, filling station operators, taxi drivers, barbers, policemen [and] ferry command pilots.”3

Women were also employed to fill in for draftees in the sporting world. “They worked as jockeys, umpires, bowling pin setters, caddies, horse trainers, and even football coaches.”4

In January 1942, President Franklin D. Roosevelt assured Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis “that it would be best for the country to keep baseball going,”5 but by mid-December 1942, the message from the Office of War Information’s representative Ken Beirn was not so encouraging. The government’s plan to place three to four million more men in uniform by the summer of 1943 would force millions more to “transfer from their non-essential occupations to war jobs.”6 Major-league owners were advised that this manpower push could reflect negatively on the continuation of their non-essential, professional sport and quite possibly necessitate its postponement for the 1943 season.

The war turned the country’s male/female roles in the work force topsy-turvy. It also resulted in the imminent postponement of major-league baseball in deference to increased war manpower demands anticipated during the summer of 1943. These factors, combined with a broad talent base of skilled female softball players throughout the US and Canada, coalesced to make conditions ripe for the creation of a women’s professional softball league. It was left to the Chicago Cubs’ innovative owner, Philip K. Wrigley, to envision filling major-league ballparks with women players in the absence of men, just as women were already filling in for men in every other imaginable occupation throughout the nation.

Wrigley was well aware of the increased employment and status of women in American society during the world wars. In a statement to the press in February 1943, he explained:

World War One showed to the world for the first time on a large scale what women could and did do, and World War Two is going to carry this even further. American women have taken a very definite share of the load in the country’s progress, and in the fields of science, business and sports they are now also working in ever increasing numbers. …7

Additionally, Wrigley was aware of the popularity of both men’s and women’s softball in the 1930s and early 1940s:

“In the late 1930s, softball was attracting more spectators than baseball in several cities, including Los Angeles and Chicago, where Wrigley owned baseball parks. A survey conducted by one of Wrigley’s Los Angeles employees revealed the existence of 9,000 softball teams within a 100-mile radius of Wrigley Field in Los Angeles in 1938. One thousand of these were women’s teams. As a means of stimulating interest in baseball in Los Angeles, Wrigley Field there was offered ‘free each year for the windup double-header to decide the championship in both men’s and women’s softball leagues.’ ”8

These games drew up to 30,000 fans and netted as much as $7,000 at the gate. The Chicago Metropolitan Girls Major Softball League had similarly attracted Wrigley’s attention by the rise in attendance at its games through the summer of 1942.9

Wrigley appointed a committee to investigate the feasibility of establishing a women’s professional softball league. The committee reported:

Without a doubt, softball, particularly among women, [had] the greatest potentialities from both competition and spectator standpoints of any of the growing sports. … The game itself should have a tremendous development in popularity due to the huge increase in the number of women war workers and the natural desire of industrial management to find some means of providing esprit de corps in their respective plants.10

Thus, during the winter of 1942-43, Wrigley persuaded Branch Rickey, another baseball entrepreneur and president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, to support the creation of, and serve as a trustee of, the All-American Girls Soft Ball League (AAGSBL). Rickey was aware of the potential of establishing a women’s professional softball league through his close friend, George Sisler, who administered amateur softball leagues in the St. Louis area.11 Wrigley also enlisted Chicago Cubs attorney, Paul V. Harper, to serve as the league’s third trustee.

The All-American Girls Soft Ball League was chartered in the Illinois State Corporation Division by Wrigley, Rickey, and Chicago attorney Paul V. Harper on February 19, 1943.12 The charter stipulated that league administration would organize, supervise, and regulate the play of women’s softball under the following tenets:

… to develop the sport and players, and establish standards of play and conduct of business such as will reflect public approval and credit to the sport.

League officers will be barred from receiving pecuniary profit … [and] during the present war (the league will seek) development of softball as a means of helpful entertainment and relief for those of the country who are bending their efforts in prosecution of the war and to engage and assist in development of such support to publicize and advertise the game.13

Once the league was chartered, Wrigley appointed Rockford, Illinois native Ken Sells as president of the new enterprise. At the time, Sells was the assistant to the Cubs’ general manager, Jim Gallagher. Wrigley also marshaled the talents of his advertising agent, Arthur E. Meyerhoff, to solicit guarantors in potential league cities and to publicize the league through local and national media.

Wrigley’s next step was to commission his baseball scouts to recruit the best female softball players in the US and Canada to compete for 60 positions in a four-team league. Wrigley originally envisioned the league’s teams playing in major-league parks when the men were away:

At a National League Club Owners’ meeting in New York in February 1943, Wrigley approached the other baseball owners with a plan for scheduling AAGSBL games in major league parks when the men’s teams were out of town. Wrigley reasoned that the women’s league would attract a somewhat different clientele than men’s baseball and at the same time stimulate more interest for the men’s game. The other baseball owners viewed the situation differently. They weren’t convinced that Major League Baseball was seriously endangered by the projected manpower shortage, and they considered the proposed women’s league an unnecessary competitor to established men’s teams. They reasoned that the sports dollar in every city was limited and whatever was spent on the women’s league wouldn’t be spent on the men’s league.14

When public sentiment forestalled the postponement of baseball, even with the turmoil caused by the 1943 manpower push, Wrigley established his four-team All-American Girls Soft Ball League in war-production communities within 100 miles of Chicago rather than in major-league cities. In line with its charter, the focus of league publicity centered on establishment of the league on the highest professional and social standards of the day and on providing recreation for war workers and citizens deprived of major-league games due to wartime gas and rubber rationing. The team guarantors and boards of directors included leaders of the major businesses and manufacturing firms in their communities. This is evidenced by the firms listed in the 1944 Racine (Wisconsin) Belles Yearbook:

  • American Legion Post No. 76
  • Badger Foundry Company
  • Belle City Malleable Iron Co.
  • Belle City Manufacturing Co.
  • J.I. Case Company
  • The Dumore Company
  • Eagles Lodge of Racine
  • Elks Lodge of Racine
  • George Gorton Machine Co.
  • Greene Manufacturing Company
  • Hamilton Beach Company
  • Hartmann Trunk Company
  • Harvey Spring & Forging Co.
  • Horlick Malted Milk Corp.
  • Iroquois Foundry Company
  • Jacobsen Manufacturing Co.
  • S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc.
  • The Journal-Times
  • The Massey-Harris Company
  • Modine Manufacturing Co.
  • Nelson Bros. & Strom Co.
  • John Oster Manufacturing Co.
  • Racine Screw Works
  • Silver Steel Company
  • G.E. Smalley
  • Standard Foundry Company
  • Tavern League of Racine
  • Twin Disc Clutch Company
  • Walker Manufacturing Company
  • Webster Electric Company
  • Western Printing & Litho. Co.
  • Young Radiator Company15

It is this author’s contention that the leading businessmen associated with these companies (and those in other league communities) were persuaded to sponsor teams because of the utilization of minor- and major-league baseball men as managers, the employment of team chaperones, the strict rules of player behavior, the dress-style uniform, the professional salaries ($45-$85 per week), and the league’s overall emphasis on femininity, which Wrigley thought would “… reflect public approval and credit to the sport.”

In the meantime, Wrigley’s baseball scouts recruited 75 of the best female softball players in the US and Canada during the winter of 1943 to compete for 60 positions in a four-team league.16 As Meyerhoff attested, the administration recognized that skilled play was what would captivate softball/baseball fans.17 Along with an approximate $100,000 outlay from Wrigley, All-American team guarantors in Rockford, Illinois; South Bend, Indiana; and Kenosha and Racine, Wisconsin, contributed $22,500 each to establish teams in their communities.18 With the wartime restrictions on gas and rubber, the residents of these four war production cities enjoyed a softball/baseball replacement for the national game played by women who replaced men on the field as they did in the factories. Those first women professional softball/baseball players, who hailed from all over the US and four provinces of Canada, included the following:

1943 Kenosha Comets

Name

Nickname

Position

Hometown

Notes of Interest

Clara Cook

P

Elmira, NY

Ann Harnett

Tootsie

3rd, C, OF

Chicago, IL

First player signed.

Helped design uniform.

Elise Harney

Lee

P

Franklin, IL

Had 19 wins & 103 strikeouts in ’43.

Kay Heim

Heimie

C

Edmonton, AB, Canada

Shirley Jameson

OF

Maywood, IL

One of first four signed.

Phyllis Koehn

Sugar

OF, IF, P

Madison, WI

Also pitched & played OF.

Mary Louise Lester

2nd

Nashville, TN

+Ethel McCreary

OF, 1st

Regina, SK, Canada

Darlene Mickelsen

Mickey

OF

Kenosha, WI

Merna Nearing

Toddy

P

Milwaukee, WI

Helen Nicol

Nickie

P

Ardley, AB, Canada

One of the best underhand pitchers in league history – 31-8 in 1943.

Janice O’Hara

Jerry

P, IF, OF

Beardstown, IL

Pauline Pirok

Pinky

SS, 3rd, P

Chicago, IL

Audrey Wagner

Audie

OF, P

Bensenville, IL

1948 MVP

Helen Westerman

Pee Wee

C

Springfield, IL

Joyce Barnes*

P

Hutchinson, KS

Catherine Bennett*

P

Regina, SK, Canada

Mabel Holle*

3rd, OF

Jacksonville, IL

Marian Wohlwender*

Wooly

C

Cincinnati, OH

Returned home due to her father’s death.

John Billings

Josh

Manager

Grantville, KY

Ada Ryan

Chaperone

Player maiden names are listed if they were unmarried in 1943. Those who were married in 1943 are listed by their married names—like Mary “Bonnie” (George) Baker.

+ It appears Ethel McCreary started with Rockford and was switched to Kenosha before the first game since she is pictured with both 1943 teams. Team pictures were probably taken prior to the first game for publicity and game programs. If she is included on the Rockford team, that would have given Rockford 16 players rather than 15 designated to begin league play. Without McCreary, Kenosha would have only had 14 players. Thus, she is listed with Kenosha here rather than with Rockford.

* These players were not included in the original team photos. They either replaced players who were subsequently released or left for personal reasons, or they were added to teams later. Some were switched from one team to another later in the season. (Muriel Coben, for instance, began play with South Bend but ended up with Rockford.) Most of these players were only listed as team members during the 1943 season and had no stats. (See the AAGPBL Website: aagpbl.org.) Thus, it’s possible that teams began league play with 15 players but that rosters expanded as the need arose later in the season.

1943 Racine Belles

Name

Nickname

Position

Hometown

Interesting Information

Margaret Danhauser

Marnie

1st

Racine, WI

In 1936 & ’37, she played on two state championship teams.

Eleanor Dapkus

OF, P

Chicago, IL

Led the league with 10 homers in 1943.

Madeline English

Maddy

3rd

Everett, MA

Had an elementary school named after her in Everett.

Irene Hickson

Choo-Choo

C

Chattanooga, TN

Also served as a chaperone. Was once the only female boxer in Chattanooga, TN.

Dorothy Hunter

Dottie

1st

Winnipeg, MB, Canada

Served as chaperone for the Chicks from 1944-1954

Sophie Kurys

Flint Flash

Tina Cobb

2nd

Flint, Michigan

In 1946, she stole 201 bases out of 203 attempts & earned MVP honors. She played on a state championship team in 1939.

Dorothy Maguire

Mickey

C, OF

LaGrange, OH

In 1936 & ’37, she played on two world championship teams from Cleveland. She was nicknamed after HOFer Mickey Cochrane.

Gloria Marks

P

San Diego, CA

Mary Nesbitt

Wish

1st, P

Chattanooga, TN

A ball field was named after her in Interlachen, FL using her married name of Mary Wisham

Edythe Perlick

Edie

OF

Chicago, IL

One of first four signed to play. Played for the Champion Rockolas in 1941.

Claire Schillace

Clara

OF

Melrose Park, IL

One of first four signed to play. In travels with her government-posted husband, she managed Little League teams in Iran & Bolivia after the AAGSBL

Charlotte Smith

Inf, OF

Chattanooga, TN

Anne Jane Thompson

Annie, Annabelle

P

Edmonton, AB, Canada

Dorothy Wind

SS

Chicago, IL

Joanne Winter

Jo

P

Maywood, IL

Also served as a chaperone. Was a pro golfer after the AAGPBL and became LPGA Teacher of the Year in 1969

Leola Brody*

Inf

Chicago, IL

Rita Corrigan*

P

Cleveland, OH

Ruby Knezovich*

C

Regina, SK, Canada

Ruby’s sister Daisy Junor also played in the AAGPBL.

Glenora Moss*

Inf

Oregon Hill, PA

Martha Walker*

P

?

John Gottselig

Poncho

Manager

Odessa, Russia

Also served as head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks of the NHL.

Marie Anderson

Teddy

Chaperone

Racine, WI

Physical Education teacher and wife of the Racine club’s business manager, Kenneth “Bud” Anderson. She was an outstanding athlete in her own right with 173 medals and 9 cups for her athletic accomplishments (See 1944 Racine Belles Yearbook).

1943 Rockford Peaches

Name

Nickname

Pos.

Hometown

Interesting Information

Eileen Burmeister

Burmy

OF, C, Inf

Milwaukee, WI

Clara Cook

P

Elmira, NY

Gladys Davis

Terrie

OF, Inf

Toronto, ON, Canada

Was 1943 batting champ w/.332 average.

Betty Jane Fritz

OF

Oshkosh, WI

Lillian Jackson

Bird Dog

OF

Nashville, TN

Dorothy Kamenshek

Kammie

1st

Norwood, OH

Played on National Champion Teams in 1940-42. In 1950, Wally Pipp called her the finest fielding first baseman, man or women. Shortly thereafter, she was offered a minor-league contract in the Florida Class B International League, but refused the offer as a gimmick and because she would have had to take a pay cut.

Olive Little

Ollie

C

Poplar Pt., MB, Canada

Played on a Manitoba team which won a Provincial Title. Considered one of the four top players in Canada. Manitoba’s top female player award is now named after Olive.

Ethel McCreary

OF, 1st

Regina, SK, Canada

Berith Melin

Berry

OF

Rockford, IL

Betty Moczynski

Moe

OF

Milwaukee, WI

Helen Nelson

C

Toronto, ON, Canada

Pauline Oravets

P

Warren, OH

Marjorie Peters

P

Greenfield, WI

Dorothy Sawyer

C

Buffalo, NY

Josephine Skokan

?

Chicago, IL

Rella Swamp

Inf

Appleton, WI

Mildred Warwick

3rd

Regina, SK, Canada

Lorraine Wuethrich

Inf

Milwaukee, WI

Muriel Coben*

P

Saskatoon, SK, Canada

Started with Blue Sox.

Dorothy Green*

Dottie

C

Natick, MA

Served as Rockford chaperone from 1948-1953. Played for the Boston Olympets from 1939-41.

Thelma Golden*#

P

Toronto, ON, Canada

One of the top pitchers from Canada. She returned home before the season started due to an injury.

Marjorie Hood*

OF

Bell Buckle, TN

Gladys Kuehn*

P

Milwaukee, WI

Ruth Miller*

C

Jacksonville, IL

Mary Pratt*

Prattie

P

Quincy, MA

Played for the Boston Olympets.

Irene Ruhnke*

Ruhnke Dunk

OF, Inf

Chicago, IL

Stumpf, Edward

Eddie

Manager

Milwaukee, WI

Marie Timm

Marty

Chaperone

Appleton, WI

A physical education teacher at Nathan Hale High School in West Allis, Wisconsin.

# Thelma Golden signed a contract but left the team before the first game when she realized the schedule would be too rigorous for her because of a previous injury. (See Golden’s profile biography at the AAGPBL Website, aagpbl.org.)

1943 South Bend Blue Sox

Name

Nickname

Position

Hometown

Interesting Information

Mary Baker

Bonnie

C, Inf

Regina, SK, Canada

Became a chaperone and a manager (1950) in the league. Her sister Genevieve McFaul also played.

Doris Barr

Dodie

P, OF

Winnipeg, MB, Canada

Pitched a no-hit, no-run game in 1945..

Margaret Berger

Sonny

P

Miami, FL

Muriel Coben

P

Saskatoon, SK, Canada

D’Angelo, Josephine

JoJo

OF

Chicago, IL

Lois Florreich

Flash

OF, Inf, P

Webster Groves, MO

League’s leading pitcher n 1949 with a 22-7 W/L record and a 0.67 ERA.

Mary Holda

Bucky

Inf

Mansfield, OH

Betsy Jochum

OF

Cincinnati, OH

Won an AAU National Championship in the Baseball Throw.

Lucella MacLean

Lu

C,Inf, OF

Lloydminster, AB Canada

Betty Jean McFadden

Mac

P

Savanna, IL

Dorothy Schroeder

Dottie

SS

Sadorus, IL

Only player to play all 12 seasons in the league.

Geraldine Shafranis

OF

Chicago, IL

Margaret Stefani

Marge

Inf

Detroit, MI

Also served as a chaperone.

Ellen Tronnier

OF

Cudahy, WI

Ruth Born*

P

Bay City, MI

Bea Chester*

3rd

Brooklyn, NY

Johanna Hargraves*

Jo

1st

Chicago, IL

Also served as a chaperone.

Mabel Holle*

3rd, OF

Jacksonville, IL

Marjorie Hood*

OF

Bell Buckle, TN

Margie Lang*

1st,, P

Cincinnati, OH

Dorothy Sawyer*

C

Buffalo, NY

Began season with Rockford.

Jean Wilson*

?

Rochester, NY

John Albert Niehoff

Bert

Manager

Louisville, CO

Ex-major leaguer.

Rose Virginia Way

Chaperone

?

Source for the preceding player tables: AAGPBL Website: aagpbl.org, Team Menu.

In 1944 Wrigley established two new teams to play in American Association parks in Minneapolis and Milwaukee as an experiment to see how teams would fare there. However, he was unable to obtain the widespread support of local businessmen and the same devotion of the press in those cities that he obtained in the smaller war production cities. Thus, by midseason the Minneapolis Millerettes became a traveling team only, and the Millerettes were dubbed the “Orphans.” In 1945, the Minneapolis team became the Fort Wayne Daisies, and the Milwaukee Chicks were relocated in Grand Rapids but retained their “Chicks” team name. New players and league personnel who joined the expanded six-team league in 1944 included the following:

Kenosha
Comets

Milwaukee
Chicks

Minneapolis
Millerettes

Racine
Belles

Rockford
Peaches

South Bend
Blue Sox

Clara Cook

Vivian Anderson

Julie Dusanko

Ruby Knezovich

Louella Daetweiler

Catherine Bennett

Rose Folder

Gladys Davis

Loretta Dwojak

Anna M. Hutchison

Marguerite Jones

Charlotte Armstrong

Gertrude Ganote

Merle Keagle

Elizabeth Farrow

Jane Jacobs

Adeline Kerrar

Rose Gacioch

Marie Kasmierczak

Emily Stevenson

Audrey Kissel

Doris Nelson

Lee Surkowski

Lucille Calacito

Kay Blumetta

Helen Callaghan

Mildred Warwick

Lib Mahon

Thelma Eisen

Marge Callaghan

Amy Applegren

Josephine Kabick

Fay Dancer

Mildred Deegan

Dolores Klosowski

Audrey Haine

Dorothy Green

Viola Thompson

Vivian Kellogg

Dorothy Harrell

Betty Whiting

Annabelle Lee

Jo Lenard

Sylvia Wronski

Ruth Lessing

Betty Luna

Alma Ziegler

Lavonne Paire

Carolyn Morris

Betty Trezza

Margaret Wigiser

Dorothy Wiltse

New Managers & Chaperones

Marty McManus

Max Carey

Bubber Jonnard

Jack Kloza / Bill Allington

Lex McCutchen

Dorothy Hunter

Virginia Carrigy

Helen Moore

Italicized Players: 1944 was the only war year these players participated in the league. Some played only in 1944. Others, like Merle Keagle, played in ’44, missed ’45 for various reasons, and resumed play in 1946. Some players played for two or more teams during the season. They are listed for the team (alphabetically) that listed them first. Rockford had two new managers in 1944. Racine’s new chaperones took over in midseason.

Source: AAGPBL Players Assoc. Website: aagpbl.org, Team menu.

Those who joined the 1945 six-team league to replace players and personnel who dropped out for one reason or another included the following:

Fort Wayne
Daisies

Grand Rapids
Chicks

Kenosha
Comets

Racine
Belles

Rockford
Peaches

South Bend
Blue Sox

Beth Carveth

Philomena Gianfrancisco

Betty Fabac

Betty Emry

Jean Cione

Nalda Bird

Arleene Johnson

Joyce Hill

Mary Rini

Jane Jacobs

Dorothy Ferguson

Dorothea Downs

Penny O’Brien

Ernestine Petras

Dorothy Shinen

Helen Filarski

Kay Sopkovic

Yolanda Teillet

Twila Shively

Kay Shinen

Alva Jo Fischer

Anne Surkowski

Agnes Zurkowski

Doris Tetzlaff

Irene Kotowicz

Marge Wenzell

Kay Rohrer

Elizabeth Wicken

Connie Wisniewski

New Managers & Chaperones

Bill Wampsganss

Benny Meyers

Pres Cruthers

Leo Murphy

Eddie Ainsmith

Helen Rauner Harrington

Catherine Behrens

Ruth Peterson, Jo Winter,

& Mildred Wilson

Lucille Moore

Kenosha, Racine, and Rockford’s managers took over in mid-season. Fort Wayne added a new chaperone in mid-season, and Racine switched three chaperones during the season.

Source: AAGPBL Players Assoc. Website: aagpbl.org, Team Menu.

Although the league name designated it as a softball league, the game Wrigley established for play the very first season was really a softball/baseball hybrid. Underhand pitching was retained because the talent pool the league drew from utilized underhand pitching. Other than shorter basepaths and pitching distances, which were lengthened five feet from the existing softball standard, the rules instituted were the major-league rules, and baseball rather than softball bats were utilized.19 Wrigley believed baseball was a better spectator sport than softball, which was a pitcher-dominated game. In fact, in midseason, the league name was officially changed to the All-American Girls Base Ball League (AAGBBL), but sportswriters objected. They maintained that it was neither purely baseball nor purely softball, so the league office re-designated the league as the All-American Girls Professional Ball League (AAGPBL). That title survived through the end of the 1944 season but the league was officially renamed the All-American Girls Base Ball League (AAGBBL) in 1945.

The 1943 midseason cream of the crop of this new professional league were selected to play in a league All-Star game held the night of July 1, 1943, in Wrigley Field. The event was part of a WAAC recruiting rally and included a preliminary game between WAAC teams from Fort Sheridan and Camp Grant. It was reported that 7,000 fans attended the free doubleheader event.20 Thus, the first professional night game played in Wrigley Field was played by an All-Star group of Wrigley’s professional women’s teams rather than by his men’s team. The All-Star teams that played in Wrigley Field that night represented players from the Rockford and South Bend teams vs. players from the Kenosha and Racine teams:

1943 ILLINOIS/INDIANA AAGPBL ALL-STARS

Rockford & South Bend

Pos.

Name

Team

From

P

Olive Little

Rockford

Poplar Point, MB, Canada

P

Marge Peters

Rockford

Greenfield, WI

P

Margaret “Sonny” Berger

S.B.

Miami, FL

P

Doris Barr

S.B.

Winnipeg, MB, Canada

C

Mary “Bonnie” Baker

S.B.

Regina, SK, Canada

C

Dorothy Green

Rockford

W. Natick, MA

1B

Johanna “Jo” Hageman

S.B.

Chicago, IL

2B

Margaret “Marge” Stefani

S.B.

Detroit, MI

3B

Millie Warwick

Rockford

Regina, SK, Canada

SS

Gladys “Terrie” Davis

Rockford

Toronto, ON, Canada

U.Inf

Lois Florreich

S.B.

Webster Groves, MO

LF

Betsy “Sockum” Jochum

S.B.

Cincinnati, OH

CF

Josephine “JoJo” D’Angelo

SB

Chicago, IL

RF

Eileen Burmeister

Rockford

Milwaukee, WI

U.0F

Betty Jane Fritz

Rockford

Oshkosh, WI

Manager

Eddie Stumpf

Rockford

Milwaukee, WI

1943 WISCONSIN AAGPBL ALL-STARS

Kenosha & Racine

Pos.

Name

Team

From

P

Mary Nesbitt

Racine

Chattanooga, TN

P

Gloria Marks

Racine

San Diego, CA

P

Elise Harney

Kenosha

Franklin, IL

P

Helen Nicol

Kenosha

Ardley, AB, Canada

C

Irene Hickson

Racine

Chattanooga, TN

C

Helen Westerman

Kenosha

Springfield, IL

1B

Janice O’Hara

Kenosha

Beardstown, IL

2B

Sophie Kurys

Racine

Flint, MI

3B

Ann Harnett

Kenosha

Chicago, IL

SS

Dorothy Wind

Racine

Chicago, IL

U.Inf

Maddy English

Racine

Boston, MA

LF

Edythe Perlick

Racine

Chicago, IL

RF

Shirley Jameson

Kenosha

Maywood, IL

CF

Eleanor Dapkus

Racine

Chicago, IL

U.OF

Clara Schillace

Racine

Melrose Park, IL

Manager

Josh Billings

Kenosha

Grantville, KS

The game wasn’t much of a contest as the Wisconsin All-Stars defeated the Rockford/South Bend contingent 16-0. The Wisconsin contingent obviously had both the better pitchers and hitters on July 1, 1943!

Sophie Kurys and Dorothy “Kammie” Kamenshek recalled both this war-related promotion and the July 18, 1944, AAGPBL doubleheader also played under temporary lighting in Wrigley Field and presented free of charge for Red Cross blood donors and service personnel. More than 16,000 fans attended the 1944 event.21

Besides recognizing their role in providing entertainment for war factory workers, players’ memories of their contribution to the war effort also included lining up in a “V” for victory during the pregame playing of the national anthem, playing exhibition games at nearby military bases, and visiting veterans’ hospitals.22

The end-of-season All-Stars, selected by the sportswriters included the following:

Pos.

Name

Team

Hometown

C

Irene Hickson

Racine

Chattanooga, TN

C

Bonnie Baker

South Bend

Regina, SK, Canada

P

Mary Nesbitt

Racine

Chattanooga, TN

P

Olive Little

Rockford

Poplar Pt., MB, Canada

P

Marge Berger

South Bend

Miami, FL

1B

Dorothy Kamenshek

Rockford

Cincinnati, OH

2B

Marge Stefani

South Bend

Detroit, MI

3B

Ann Harnett

Kenosha

Chicago, IL

SS

Terrie Davis

Rockford

Toronto, ON, Canada

OF

Shirley Jameson

Kenosha

Maywood, IL

OF

Clara Schillace

Racine

Melrose Park, IL

OF

Edythe Perlick

Racine

Chicago, IL

Ut.InF.

Pauline Pirok

Kenosha

Chicago, IL

Ut.OF.

Eleanor Dapkus

Racine

Chicago, IL

League yearbooks provided profiles of team players for the benefit of fans. Those available for the 1943 All-Stars provide a sense of the type of athletes and individuals Wrigley recruited for his All-American Girls League and emphasized the nature of the femininity publicity utilized to promote the league.23

MARY “BONNIE” BAKER: Age: 24 [in 1943] – Height: 5 ft. 5½ -Weight: 132 – Bats R – Throws R

One of the finest catchers . . . is this ex-fashion model, who grew up ‘mid a family of baseball catchers. She has four brothers and four sisters . . . and all four brothers are or have been catchers—one of them, a left handed catcher, at that! Three of the brothers are in the Canadian armed forces today—as is Bonnie’s husband, who is with the Royal Canadian Air Force. . . . In addition to her baseball ability, her durability is almost startling in a slim girl who has the slight figure so necessary for her one-time profession of modeling . . . come to think of it, though, she’s a “model” catcher!24

ELEANOR VIRGINIA DAPKUS: Age: 20 – Height: 5 ft. 7 – Weight: 160 – Hair: Brown – Eyes: Green – Bats R – Throws R

Eleanor is a native Chicagoan of Lithuanian descent and Chicago is still her Hometown. She has won as many as 25 medals in different sports and has always had an ambition to be a physical education teacher. She likes bowling, roller skating and ice skating races and participates in table tennis and volleyball. She speaks Lithuanian, the tongue of her parents, and she plays the ukulele and accordion for musical diversion. She is a camera enthusiast and has been employed in secretarial and clerking position in business. She likes steaks and her favorite color is green. . . . Eleanor has an ambition to hit two homers in one game. (She was the league’s leading home run hitter in 1943.)25

ANN HARNETT: Age: 23 [in 1943] – Height: 5 ft. 6 – Weight: 139 – Bats R – Throws R

Ann was the first player to sign a contract to play in the new girls’ professional league and then helped in getting other players to sign. She also helped in designing the tunic style uniform adopted by the League. Ann began her professional career as a third baseman.

As the first player signed, Ann was the focus of early league publicity. Besides a captivating smile, Ann was credited as being “the best girl player the game has seen.”26

MAE IRENE HICKSON: Age: 24 – Height: 5 ft. 2 – Weight: 117 – Hair: Brown – Eyes: Blue – Bats R – Throws R

Choo-Choo, as she is affectionately known, is a true daughter of the south, having been born and still residing in Chattanooga, Tenn. A great all-around athlete, she has been pitcher and catcher for teams in Georgia, Tennessee and North Carolina, having played on several state Championship teams. She was credited with 25 home runs in the 1939 season. Choo-Choo was once Chattanooga’s only girl boxer and in 1938, she won every event in an athletic meet held at Warner Park, including 50-yard dash, relay, throwing contest, horse shoe pitching and broad jump. She works for the off-season as a spinning doffer at a yarn processing company but her ambition is to play ball as long and as well as Ty Cobb and be a catcher like Mickey Owen of the Brooklyn Dodgers.27

MARY LILLIAN NESBITT: Age: 19 – Height: 5 ft. 8 – Weight: 158 – Hair: Auburn – Eyes: Hazel – Bats L – Throws L

Mary was born at Greenville, S.C., but now resides in Chattanooga, Tenn. She is of Irish descent and a great all-around athlete, playing any position except catcher on championship teams in Florida. She was Chattanooga tennis champion in 1942 and played with a championship boys’ softball team in that city the same year. She pitched four no-hit games against men in 1940. She likes all sports and her favorite hobby is fishing, except that fishing cronies object to her left hand manipulations of rod and reel. Her ambition is to teach physical education but she has been employed in secretarial work, clerking and textile mills. Like a true southerner, she likes corn bread and butter beans. Her favorite color is red and she sees just that when anyone calls her “hill-billy.”28

EDYTHE L. PERLICK: Age: 21 – Height: 5 ft. 4 – Weight: 138 – Hair: Blonde – Eyes: Brown – Bats R – Throws R

Edie was born and lives in Chicago, where she attended Wright Junior College and played on several outstanding teams in that city, including the famous champion Rockolas in 1941. She likes basketball, tennis, golf, swimming, riding and bowling and she plays volleyball. Edie likes to collect cards and souvenirs of the various places she visits in her travels. Her off-season occupation has been clippings and publicity with a well-known Chicago advertising agency. She is of German descent but both her father and mother were born in Chicago and her one brother has been a football player at Lane Tech in the windy city. Her ambition is to be a success in whatever she undertakes. She likes apple pie and her favorite color is blue.29

CLARA JOAN SCHILLACE: Age: 21 [in 1943] – Height. 5 ft. 3 – Weight: 128 – Bats R – Throws L

Probably one of the most popular school teachers ever born, the diminutive Clara is a perennial favorite with Racine Fans and the darling of the younger set. Clara was a natural for the All-American as a result of her outstanding record with top teams in the Chicago area, including Illinois State Champs, Chicago City Champs and semi-finalists in the world’s softball tourney. Clara attended Chicago Normal and De Kalb Teachers College and has been a teacher in schools of St. Charles, Ill. . . . Her favorite color is yellow and an order of fried chicken will warm her heart. During the off-season, Clara lived in New York City and took post-graduate work in Physical Education.30

OLIVE BEND LITTLE: Age: 26 [in 1943] – Bats R – Throws R

In 1945, “Olive Little from Poplar Point, Canada . . . and Sgt. Little of the Canadian Army [were] the proud parents of one year old “Bobbie,” a little girl who is already a PEACH.

A girls’ soft ball club, organized by her father, gave Olive experience around home. The next step was the nearby Norwood Ball club. After 5 years, she went with the Canadian Ukrainian club of the same league and helped take the Manitoba provincial title. Then came the winning Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan, team, a stepping stone to the A.A.G.P.B.L. and the PEACHES in 1943.

“Bobbie” keeps her busy off season, but Olive does manage to get into a few Hockey games and an occasional afternoon of Ice Skating.

She likes ornamental dogs, cats, and horses on her knick-knack shelves, but nothing ornamental when it comes to clothes—‘They’ve got to be practical.’ ”31

DOROTHY KAMENSHEK: “Kammy,” from Norwood, Ohio, is employed as an inspector by the Crosley Corp. of Cincinnati, and is one of the “Charter-members” of the league.

DOROTHY KAMENSHEK was almost a Christmas present, being born December 21, 1925. In 1940-41-42 she played C.F. on the H.H. Meyer Packing Co.’s Soft Ball Club in Cincinnati. Each one of those years, the team brought back the championship from the National Meet. “Dottie” got the nod from the scouts of the A.A.G.P.B.L. while playing with this team, and has played first base for the PEACHES since 1943.

While her taste for the “jive” of Artie Shaw has her collecting his records, “something neat and ordinary” suits her for clothes.32

A tribute should also be given to those known to choose to serve in the armed forces during World War II and who became AAGPBL players or team personnel afterward. These included:

NAME

NICKNAME

POSITION

U.S. SERVICE BRANCH

Beatrice Jean Allard

Bea

RHP

Army

Virginia Bell

Ginger

RHP, OF

Army

Helen (Hannah) Campbell

Chappie

Chaperone

Marine Corps

Corrine Clark

Corky

IF, OF

Navy

Edna (Frank) Dummerth

Frankie

C

Navy

Lillian Faralla

Lil

RHP, IF, OF

Coast Guard

Peggy L. Fenton

Peg

IF, OF

Marine Corps & Navy Reserves

Hermina Ann Franks

Irish

RHP

Army

Ruby Ethel Heafner

Rebel

C

Army

Anne (Mihelich) Henry

Annie

RHP, 3B

Navy

Margaret Johnson

Peg

Chaperone

Army

Theresa Kobuszewski

Koby

RHP

Army

Lillian Luckey

Luckey

RHP

Marine Corps

Charlene (Pryer) Mayer

Shorty

OF, 2B

Marine Corps

Katherine Pechulis

IF, OF

Army

Jackie (Kelley) Savage

Babe

C, IF, OF

Marine Corps

Helen Smith

Gig

OF

Army

Marva Lee Thomas

Tommy

3B, C

Navy

Therese McKinley Uselmann

Terry

OF

Navy Reserves

Inez Voyce

Lefty

LHP, 1B

Navy

Elma (Steck) Weiss

El

OF

Navy Reserves

Adele Stahley

Rusty

OF

Navy

List compiled through the efforts of former AAGPBL players Helen Nordquist, Delores (Brumfield) White, and Players Association member Kris Shepard for the 2014 Albuquerque Reunion. Italicized players were deceased at the time the list was finalized.

League city guarantors/investors faithfully attended league games and encouraged their employees to attend also. In fact, they even organized special factory nights which incorporated incentives for each industry to outdo others for an attendance record.33 Major league-style daily game publicity in local papers further encouraged workers to forget their cares and worries by attending an All-American game to enjoy watching major-league-style play which would boost their morale and provide the best recreation on the home front.34

As Dick Day, 1943 sports editor for the Rockford Register Republic, attested, Wrigley’s All-American Girls Professional Soft Ball/Base Ball League endeavor proved to be more than a novelty during its first season:

It’s beginning to look as if the skeptics were wrong again.

A few months ago, when Ken Sells first crashed into the headlines with the disclosure that Phil Wrigley, Branch Rickey and associates were about to launch a girls’ professional softball league, the sports world took it as something of a merry jest.

Since that time, though, the skeptics have had a chance to revise their original opinion of the new sports venture as a gate attraction. It seems to be catching on … in Rockford and in the rest of the league cities. At South Bend, Racine and Kenosha the club operators report attendance in excess of a thousand as fairly common and have reason, they say, to expect double that number on nights when there’s a lack of rival attractions and weather conditions are right.

In Rockford there was the novel experience of the Peaches drawing something in excess of 3,000 customers in two successive appearances. True, one was a holiday double-header and the other was featured by an Industrial league ceremony honoring a former National Lock player who is now with the Peaches. But the fact remains that nearly 1,500 people pushed their way through the turnstiles on one occasion and more than 1,500 came in the second time.

This in the face of the Peaches’ position in last place, is cause for revising the popular conception of what it takes to make sports pay here. Cellar occupancy in this particular case is no disgrace, a fact that the customers at the 15th avenue stadium, by their repeated patronage, seem to appreciate.

… We wouldn’t go so far as to say that Prexy Sells has a gold mine here, but the results at the box office to date would indicate that he has something worth cultivating.35

Wrigley’s establishment of the All-American Girls League on the highest professional and social standards of his day is reflected in the Trustee nonprofit structure developed for league operations; the creation of the skirt-style uniform; the institution of rigorous player behavioral rules; the employment of former major and minor leaguers as managers; the employment of team chaperones; the professional wages players were paid; the major-league-style newspaper coverage teams were accorded in league cities; the national publicity garnered by Arthur Meyerhoff, and even the emphasis on players’ femininity in league publicity.36 As a result, the All-American Girls Soft Ball/Base Ball League achieved the purposes of its charter to “reflect public approval and credit to the sport” and to provide “helpful entertainment and relief for those of the country who are bending their efforts in prosecution of the war and to engage and assist in development of such support to publicize and advertise the game.”

It’s a tribute to Wrigley’s organization of the All-American Girls League and to its players and league personnel that the All-American Girls Soft Ball/Base Ball League not only served its purposes during the war years of 1943-45, but that it continued to provide highly professional caliber baseball for its communities’ citizens through nine succeeding seasons.

Even as women who worked in factories and women who served in the armed forces, after their playing days were over, most All-Americans resumed or assumed more common roles in society and didn’t talk about their playing days much—mostly because whenever they said they played professional baseball during and after the war, folks maintained it must have been softball. Nonetheless, as their factory and military compatriots experienced from their work/military involvement, the lives of AAGPBL players were enriched by their opportunity to play professional baseball—by the travel they would not otherwise have experienced; by earning their livelihood playing a game they loved; by learning to give and take with those who grew up in different subcultures (North & South, East & West, Canada & Cuba); and by acquiring the funds to obtain college educations that would otherwise have been out of their reach and which enabled a number of them to attain professional careers.

Like their league mates, many of those who married and raised families instead of seeking professional training and employment continued to participate in sports such as bowling, golf, and tennis. Some confidently coached their daughters and sons in softball and baseball.

In the summer of 1992 the feature film A League of Their Own informed the population of the whole nation and those in many countries of the world that a successful women’s professional baseball league existed in the Midwest during World War II. With the release of the movie, players began experiencing overdue accolades from families, friends, newspapers, magazines, local softball and baseball organizations, and Major League Baseball. Looking back, nearly all of those who participated in it maintained that their year(s) in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League were the best year(s) of their lives.37

MERRIE A. FIDLER, a SABR member since 2005, is a retired high school P.E./English teacher from northern California whose passion, besides the SF Giants, is the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). She happened upon the AAGPBL in the fall of 1971 as a graduate student in Sport History at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. The history of the league became the topic of her master’s thesis, and, after she retired from teaching in 2003, the master’s thesis became the core of The Origins and History of the AAGPBL. Fidler has served as Secretary of the Board of Directors of the AAGPBL Players Association since 2007.

Notes

1 Jean Faut to Mary Moore, oral history interview, Fort Wayne, Indiana, 1996.

2 “Softball,” Time, September 16, 1935, 48. Frank J. Taylor,“Fast and Pretty,” Collier’s, August 10, 1938, 38.

3Richard R. Lindeman, Don’t You Know There’s a War On? (New York: Putnam’s, 1970), 152.

4 Paul Gardner, “Now Lady Umpires!” This Week, July 17, 1943; Lindeman, Don’t You Know There’s a War On?, 152.

5 John Rickard Betts, America’s Sporting Heritage, 1850-1950 (Reading, Massachusetts: Addison-Wesley, 1974), 288-289.

6 Ken Beirn to Philip Wrigley, December 18, 1942, found in the Meyerhoff AAGPBL files in the Wrigley Building, Chicago, in the summer of 1974.

7 “Mr. Wrigley’s Statement for the Press on the Girls’ All-American Softball League,” February 17, 1943, Meyerhoff Files, Drawer 19, 1943 News Release Folder.

8 Frank J. Taylor, “Fast and Pretty,” Collier’s, August 20, 1938, 38.

9 Chicago Daily News, February 9, 1943, Sports Section, 15.

10 Jess Krueger to Arthur Meyerhoff, January 9, 1943, Meyerhoff Files, Drawer 19, 1944 Miscellaneous Folder.

11 David Quentin Voigt, American Baseball: From the Commissioners to Continental Expansion (Norman, Oklahoma: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970), 121.

12 “Girls’ Softball League Chartered,” Daily Illinois State Journal (Springfield, Illinois), February 19, 1943, 14.

13 Ibid.

14 Merrie A. Fidler, The Origins and History of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Co., Publishers, 2006), 38-39. This quote is supported by these sources: Chicago Daily News, February 9, 1943, Sports Section, 15; and Interview with Arthur E. Meyerhoff, Rancho Santa Fe, California, December 28, 1972.

15 1944 Racine Belles Yearbook, 4.

16 Estimates of the number of players who attended tryouts in Wrigley Field in May of 1943 range from 150 up. However, the May 16 and May 19, 1943 Rockford (Illinois) Morning Star articles both stated that 75 players would train at Wrigley Field from May 16 through May 24 or 25, 1943.

17 Interview with Arthur Meyerhoff, Rancho Santa Fe, California, December 28, 1972.

18 Untitled document explaining “The Responsibilities and Benefits of the Guarantors and the League as Operator of the Club,” Meyerhoff Files, 1945 Organization Folder; Kenosha (Wisconsin) Evening News, May 1, 1943, 3; May 6, 1943, 3; C.L. Biemiller, “Women’s Prettiest Ballplayers,” Holiday, June 1952, 75; Paul M. Angle, Philip K. Wrigley: Memoir of a Modest Man (Chicago: Rand McNally, 1975), 24.

19 1944 Racine Belles Yearbook, 8.

20 Chicago Tribune, July 1, 1943, Sec. 2, 23; Kenosha Evening News, June 24, 1943, 8; July 2, 1943, 8; Chicago Tribune July 2, 1943, Sec. 1, 21.

21 Meyerhoff Files, Drawer 19, Red Cross “Thank You” Night News Release Folder.

22 Rockford (Illinois) Register Republic, May 1, 1943, 3; June 18, 1943, 8; June 29, 1943, 8; Racine Journal-Times, May 9, 1945, 16; May 16, 1945, 12. Sue Macy, A Whole New Ball Game: The Story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (New York: Henry Holt and Company, 1993), 37. Interview with Dorothy Kamenshek and Sophie Kurys, February 19, 2008.

23 The author is indebted to former player Helen Nordquist, AAGPBL Players Association associate member Carol Sheldon, and Center for History (South Bend, Indiana) archivist Kristin Madden for providing player profiles from their AAGPBL yearbook collections.

24 1945 South Bend Blue Sox Yearbook.

25 1944 Racine Belles Yearbook.

26 Compiled from Canton (Ohio) Repository, June 5, 1943, 7; en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ann_Harnett; aagpbl.org/index.cfm/profiles/harnett-ann/309.

27 1944 Racine Belles Yearbook.

28 Ibid.

29 Ibid.

30 1945 Racine Belles Yearbook, 11.

31 1945 Rockford Peaches Yearbook and Player Profile at aagpbl.org.

32 1945 Rockford Peaches Yearbook.

33 Kenosha Evening News, August 20, 1943, 8.

34 Kenosha Evening News, June 1, 1943, 9.

35 Dick Day, “Time Out,” Rockford Register Republic, July 12, 1943, 18.

36 Merrie A. Fidler, 47, 49.

37 Information in the last few paragraphs was obtained from discussions with players during research for The Origins and History of the All-American Girls Baseball League from 1971-76 (see chapters 11 and 17) and during AAGPBL Players Association reunions from 2003-2014.

Baseball’s Women on the Field During World War II – Society for American Baseball Research (2024)
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