COVID-19 Updates: The Wisconsin Historical Society hours have changed. See a full list of COVID-19 Closures and Events HERE.

All-American Girls Baseball League Thrives During WWII | Wisconsin Historical Society

Historical Essay

A League of Their Own

All-American Girls Baseball League Thrives During World War II

All-American Girls Baseball League Thrives During WWII | Wisconsin Historical Society
EnlargeCollage of photographs of members of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, as seen in the Racine Belles annual yearbook of 1948.

All American Girls Baseball League

Collage of photographs of members of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, as seen in the Racine Belles annual yearbook of 1948. View the original source document: WHI 58540

Popularized in the movie "A League of Their Own," the All-American Girls Baseball League thrilled fans for 12 seasons in cities and towns throughout the Midwest, including Kenosha, Racine and Milwaukee. Drawing young women from around the country, the league was a quick success and more than 600 women played in the league over 12 seasons.

Wrigley Chewing Gum

Organized in 1943 by chewing-gum mogul Philip K. Wrigley, the All-American Girls Softball League, as the league was originally called, was established to fill ballparks left empty by young men drafted into the military. The only organized ball game for women at the time was softball, but league trustees, eager to enliven the game, sought a new style of play that would combine the best elements of baseball and softball. In an effort to increase hitting and spotlight base running, league organizers extended the length of the base paths and pitching distance, and also incorporated baseball's base running rules which allowed runners to lead off and steal bases. While softball had typically included 10 players, this new game would mirror men's baseball with nine players using the same type of equipment. The skill of the existing semi-professional softball teams in the Chicago area convinced them to keep the 12-inch ball and underhand pitching of traditional softball.

Wrigley selected four cities in close proximity to league headquarters in Chicago to host the first teams: Racine and Kenosha, Wisconsin; Rockford, Illinois; and South Bend, Indiana. Teams comprised 15 players, a coach, a business manager and a female chaperone.

Conduct and Dress

Using his established recruitment network from his ownership of the Chicago Cubs, Wrigley sent recruiters and scouts to locate and sign women from all over the United States and Canada. Salaries ranged from $45 to $85 a week, high for these young women who were often making more money than their parents working in skilled occupations. Those who were signed not only had to play well, they also had to comply with rules of conduct imposed by the league. Femininity was a high priority to Wrigley who contracted with Helena Rubinstein's Beauty Salon and the Ruth Tiffany School to instruct players in proper etiquette, personal hygiene, mannerisms and dress. Each player also received a beauty kit to make them as physically attractive as possible.

League play officially began on May 30, 1943, with South Bend playing Rockford and Kenosha playing Racine. Playing a total of 108 regular season games from May to September, the top teams then competed for the league championship. In a five-game, all-Wisconsin series, the Racine Belles defeated the Kenosha Comets to become the first World Champions of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

Rise and Fall

EnlargeGroup portrait of the Hitch Post Women's Softball Team, representing Madison in the West Allis Girl's Classic Softball League.

Hitch Post Women's Softball Team, June 14th, 1954

Group portrait of the Hitch Post Women's Softball Team, representing Madison in the West Allis Girl's Classic Softball League. View the original source document: WHI 92540

The talent of the players combined with the high caliber of play brought enthusiastic support for the league and thousands of fans to the ballpark. Two new teams were added in 1944: the Milwaukee Chicks and the Minneapolis Millerettes. After the war ended in 1945, more teams were added and the rules modified to include overhand pitching.

Unfortunately, declining attendance in the early 1950s caused the league to fold in 1954. The decentralization of league management, coupled with the rise of televised major league games, left teams unable to cultivate a local fan base and recruit new talent.

For 12 seasons, from 1943 to 1954, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League gave women the opportunity to play a level of professional baseball never before attained. Wisconsin teams claimed the league championship three times: the Racine Belles in 1943 and 1946, and the Milwaukee Chicks in 1944. After the league's demise, women who wanted to play professional ball had little choice but to play softball, a situation that, with few exceptions, has not changed.

Learn More

See more images, essays, newspapers and records about women in baseball.