Debra A. Shattuck has spent three decades studying the participation of girls and women in baseball, producing the most thorough study of women's participation in the sport during the nineteenth century. In her much-awaited study she argues that baseball evolved from a gender-neutral child's game and demonstrates that playing baseball was not exclusively a male activity since girls and women “actively (although not always consciously) resisted this gendered narrative by playing the game” (p. 1). Shattuck argues that baseball's institutional structures, its culture (or creed), and social interactions shaped the formation of “baseball that privileged male participation and accomplishments by mischaracterizing and marginalizing female participation” (p. 4). She also asserts that the process of gender formation was critical to her study “because it was in the process of trying to define and redefine masculinity and femininity that … men and women transformed baseball from a gender-neutral game to a deeply gendered sport” (p. 11). Shattuck's analysis depends on the assumption that girls playing bat-and-ball games before modern rules were codified were “baseball” players. They were ballplayers, not baseball players. From 1865 to 1879 Shattuck found over one hundred women's baseball teams, primarily community teams, as well as sixteen school teams, nine college teams, and five professional teams, in twenty-two states. In the 1880s the press covered some of the twenty professional touring teams that, she claims, outdrew major league teams. These unskilled, scantily clad “professionals” were a novelty, an athletic version of a burlesque show. The brief tours usually lost money, and the young players were often abused by the promoters. Other than Lizzie Arlington and Maud Nelson, who played on men's teams, women who played real baseball received little publicity. College players wanted to have fun and were most comfortable with gender-segregated competition. Shattuck points out that they mainly attended single-sex northern colleges, where they preferred intramural and nonpublic contests. They challenged social norms by playing baseball, but their uniforms were typically dresses or skirts with colored pantyhose. College baseball was less successful than basketball or tennis. The teams existed only briefly and were opposed by female physical educators who accepted the dominant sport ideology. Shattuck provides evidence that journalists mocked women ballplayers and also recognizes that female physical educators opposed their students playing baseball because it put them outside of a proper women's sphere. Stattuck does not discuss muscular Christianity, the ideology that promoted exertive sports to make boys into men, but instead focuses on the baseball creed, which was an offshoot of it. The creed promoted baseball as manly to distinguish it from boys' games. Such sports ideologies still promoted sport as a masculine activity in the late nineteenth century, less to keep women from participating and more to encourage manly sport when the middle class was threatened by the feminization of American culture. This well-written work illuminates an understudied aspect of American women's history and deserves a wide readership. © The Author 2018. Published by Oxford University Press on behalf of the Organization of American Historians. All rights reserved. For permissions, please e-mail: email@example.com.
The Journal of American History – Oxford University Press
Published: Mar 1, 2018
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