Although female athletes are ubiquitous in contemporary society, that certainly wasn’t always the case. In fact, most strides for equality in sports occurred in the last century and it wasn’t even until the 1912 Summer Olympics that women could even compete in diving and swimming events. But just because the International Olympic Committee allowed women to compete, not every country was on board — including the United States.
Women were still second-class citizens in 1912 America — women’s suffrage wouldn’t be enacted for another eight years — and Amateur Athletic Union founder and Secretary of the United States Olympic Committee James Edward Sullivan had no interest in allowing women to compete in the swimming and diving events. Actress and diver Ida Schnall yearned to compete in the games, but when Sullivan ended that dream, Schnall made it her mission to prove women could play any sport — starting with baseball.
The New York Female Giants was an all-women baseball league made up of 32 teens and young women on two teams, the “Reds” and “Blues.” Schnall herself was the captain and a pitcher. The New York squad was just beginning, as Schnall would prove herself adept at numerous sports, including wrestling and tennis, and even brought her female baseball squad to Hollywood in the ’20s.
The New York Female Giants may have been a publicity stunt in 1913, but the women were true athletes and trailblazers for the generations of women that followed. Check out photos of the team in action below from the Library of Congress and learn more about Ida Schnall from MLB historian John Thorn.