Baseball’s Barnstorming Belles
A century ago, baseball teams with women players were somewhat of a novelty. The all-women teams, with the exception of one or two essential male players, made a nearly modest living traveling throughout the country, playing in big cities and little towns against all male teams, usually a squad formed from local boys and young men. Such was the case with the Indianapolis Star Bloomer Girls, who traveled through Georgia in the spring of 1914, stopped in Dublin for a contest against our local team.
“Bloomer Girls” teams were formed in different parts of the country from New England to the Mid West. The teams were not all women. Many hired a male player, “a topper” to pitch or catch. Among three of the most famous toppers, some of whom wore wavy wigs, were Hall of Fame infielder Rogers Hornsby, who would return to Dublin with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1933, Smoky Joe Wood a star pitcher for the Boston Red Sox in the years before World War I and another Hall of Fame pitcher, Grover Cleveland Alexander.
Named for Adelaide Bloomer, a woman’s rights activist, the Bloomer Girls began in the 1890s and lasted for more than four decades when women’s professional baseball teams disbanded in the mid 1930s. The Girls, who originally wore loose-fitting bloomer pants before switching to more traditional baseball pants, helped to introduce night baseball games in the early 1900s. Used to playing at night, the blinding glare of the arc lights often gave the Bloomer Girls a decided advantage to their daylight playing competitors.
After spending the winter training in Cuba, the Bloomer Girls, managed by Frank Schmalz - the brother of former Cincinnati Reds owner George Schmalz, began a grueling schedule in February 1914, playing first in New Orleans and then playing on most days across the Deep South.
Eastman was the first stop on the Georgia schedule for the Bloomer Girls, who billed themselves as the “Lady Champions of the World,” on April 20, 1914. One thousand or more baseball fans and curious spectators witnessed the Eastman Boys jump out to an early 5-0 lead at the end of three innings. The Bloomer Girls committed eight errors in the game, but managed to pull within two runs with a three-run six inning. Eastman’s catcher Wright had a big day with three hits, while Eastman starting pitcher, Henry Skelton, held the Girls in check for most of the game.
The Star Bloomer Girls traveled from Eastman to Dublin by train for a game on the afternoon of April 21, 1914. Under fair, warming skies the teams took the field, most likely at the 12th District Fairgrounds at the corner of Telfair and Troup Streets. There may have been as many as 1500 fans on hand to see the game.
Although no specific accounts of the game have survived, the Dublin boys scored single runs in the first and third innings before plating four to take a commanding 6- 0lead in the bottom of the 5th inning. With outstanding fielding, the Dublin boys held the Girls to a single run in the top of the 8th, taking an easy 7-1 victory with the pitching of Whetor. Margaret “Peg” Cunningham, the left-handed, nineteen-year-old, star pitcher for the Girls, started for the Bloomers until she was relieved by Loyd, who pitched well in relief. The Dublin boys boasted that they had the second greatest victory by a Georgia team against the Bloomers, only a single run behind the boys from LaGrange.
Margaret "Peg" Cunningham and Minnie Fay Phelan, Feb. 1914
Among the girls playing in Dublin that day were: Selma Wanbaum, an eight-year veteran at first base, “Happy” Murphy, the team comedian and second baseman with six year’s experience, and third baseman Elizabeth “Lizzie” Fargo. Playing left field was “Carrie Nation,” aka Mae Arbaugh, who reportedly played in 6,486 professional baseball games (and at least 4600 as reported by Baseball Magazine in 1931.) If true, Arbaugh would have surpassed Pete Rose for the most games played by a professional baseball player.
Marie Dierl took center field and Watsworth, right field. Minnie Fay Phelan, sister of Chicago Cub infielder, Art Phelan, and the Girls’ right handed pitcher, once pitched a 3-2, 14-inning complete game against the men of Syracuse. Jack Reilly, a semi-pro player, was the sole male member of the team and usually played the key stone position at shortstop.
Margaret Cunningham was regarded as the best female pitcher of her day. Seems that Margaret learned how to pitch under the mentorship of Ed Walsh, a Hall of Fame pitcher, who played with the Chicago White Sox for most of his career and who still holds the all time record lowest (1.82) career ERA. One of Cunningham’s greatest pitching victories came in 1913 when she defeated Louisville, Kentucky’s male team 2-1 in an 11-inning complete game victory.
The next stop on the swing through Central Georgia came on the 22nd of April in a game between the Star Bloomers and Hawkinsville.
On the 24th, the Girls traveled to Macon to play an All Star team made up of members of the Central City League. Margaret “Peg O’ My Heart” Cunningham started the game in front of more than a thousand men and their wives.
At the end of three innings, Cunningham, obviously exhausted from pitching too many innings on too many days, cried out, “Oh, my! I am tired. Take me out!” With their star pitcher on the bench, things weren’t looking up for the Bloomers, who were playing their fourth straight day of baseball, all on the road and far, far from their homes.
With three men playing against the powerful Macon team, the Bloomer Girls’ Mr. John came into pitch, holding the Macon nine scoreless for the rest of the game. The Girls fought back scoring one in the 6th inning and two runs in each of the next two stanzas to squeak by the Macon men, 5-4.
The next day, the girls traveled to Atlanta to face the Atlanta Federals, a semi-pro team, whom they upset in front of a stunned crowd.
The Bloomer Girls continued their swing through Georgia in May playing teams from Columbus, Talbotton, LaGrange and the Bibb Mills team from Macon. Bloomer boosters claim that the Bibb Mills team had to import players to keep the girls from sweeping the two-game series from Macon men.
By the time the Star Girls made it to Montgomery, Alabama, they had won five games in a row. Managers of the men’s capital city’s team scoured the countryside for men with semi-pro experience to prevent further embarrassment to the ego of the men of the “Yellowhammer State.” The Montgomery team assembled a team which they deemed to have “the best amateur infield in the state.” The bought and paid for team won, but the Bloomer Girls kept right on playing throughout the summer and throughout the nation, playing as many as two hundred games a year.
Those who saw the “Star Bloomer Girls” went away believing that baseball’s barnstorming belles in dark uniforms with a big star on the front were not just novelties, but an aggregation of good baseball players who could hold their own with the best men that any city or town could send out to beat them.