A Riot in Cuba
In early 1893 a team known as the “American Female Baseball Club” traveled to Cuba to play a series of games against male teams. The Associated Press said the team was “going about playing against Cuban clubs and otherwise exhibiting themselves with more or less success,” until they arrived in the Almendares district of Havana for a game on March 5:
“The attendance included a share of the lowest dregs of society. These became irritated at the playing of the American visitors and some of them declared that it was simply farcical and…claimed the young women were, in fact, not players at all. They clamored for the restitution of their money, and at length broke seats and set fire to the fence around the play-grounds.
“This caused a general consternation among the female players, who were gallantly defended by the young men of the opposing Cuban club and by the respectable majority of the spectators. Confusion ensued, and the shrieks of the frightened young women could be heard mingled with the execrations of the mob. All the players, male and female, took refuge in a house. The mob pursued them and succeeded in obtaining entrance. Then the rioters pillaged the house. The Cuban players fought bravely to save the young women; otherwise more of them would have been hurt.”
Most of the nine players were injured in the melee, and when the team returned to New York on March 14 The associated Press said the team “brought suit for damages against the Spanish Government. The manager of the team, a man named Joseph Bruckner, said not only were the players assaulted but the rioters “dragged down the American flag which the club carried, and destroyed it.”
The resolution of the suit, if there was any, was never reported. And there is no record of the “American Female Baseball Club” playing again.
“Deserting Home for the Diamond Field”
The acting chief of the New Orleans police department received a telegram from Cincinnati in May of 1886:
“Arrest two runaway girls. They will arrive on train No. 1 of the North-eastern [sic] Railroad.”
The Cincinnati Enquirer said two New Orleans officers were detailed, and:
“(U)pon the arrival of the train placed the two runaway girls under arrest and brought them to the chief’s office. At the time of their arrest they were in the company of H. Freeman, the manager of the Female Base-Ball Club. Arrived at the station they gave their names as Fannie Crambert and Ella Burke. They stated that they got acquainted with the members of the club in Cincinnati, and that, believing it a pleasant life, they resolved to lead it.”
The paper noted that both “were over eighteen years of age,” and were “dressed in flashy sailor suits,” when they arrived in New Orleans.
The Chief “gave them sound advice, and stated that the ways of the female baseballists were too rough and dangerous for young and virtuous girls.”
The two were returned to their families in Cincinnati.
The manager of the team, Harry Freeman (The New Orleans Times-Picayune said his real name was Sylvester Wilson), was arrested and “charged with being a dangerous and suspicious character…for inducing young girls to leave their homes and parents and join his troupe of baseball players.”
Freeman/Sylvester was given the choice of a $25 fine or thirty days in jail; he chose to pay the fine.
The Times-Picayune said:
“Female base ball playing in New Orleans has doubtless had its day, and there will be no more of it—this season at least.”
Below is an advertisement for the Chicago dates for a 1889 Barnstorming Tour of “Young Lady Ball Players of the World,” one of many teams generically called “Bloomer Girls,” that played across the country in the late 19th Century. This club played against male competition, and, like most women’s teams had between one and four male team members who would usually dress in drag.
“It is Claimed by these Citizens that the Pictures are Indecent”
In 1886, The Atlanta Constitution reported that a “cigarette picture sensation is agitating certain good people” in the city.
Cards inserted in packages of cigarettes were not new in Atlanta, or anywhere else; the practice was, at least, a decade old. But these cards were different:
“They represent nine handsome female baseball players in attitudes common in that popular game.”
The cards were “displayed in a window” at the tobacco shop in Atlanta’s Kimball House Hotel.
“Since two weeks ago, it has been a daily occurrence for crowds to gather around the window and gaze admiringly upon the graceful forms depicted in the photographer’s art. All sorts of people have been there, from the ragged boot black to the merchant prince.”
The cards quickly became controversial:
“A number of staid citizens have expressed themselves as being opposed to the exhibition of the pictures, and have declared their intention to request Mayor (George) Hillyer to interfere. It is claimed by these citizens that the pictures are indecent.”
Atlanta was not the only city where the cards were a sensation, and controversial.
The New York Journal railed against the “objectionable pictorial advertisements in tobacco shop windows.” Anthony Comstock’s Society for the Suppression of Vice contacted cigarette manufacturers and retailers ordering them to “cease these immodest displays, or prepare to face legal prosecution.”
The Journal said:
“Business men complain that some of the picture exhibited in the retail cigar stores…are of such a character that their wives and daughters hesitate to pass them, because of the open comments of boys and men who hang about the windows.”
While the displays were removed from many windows throughout the country, there is no record of any prosecutions of those who refused to remove the “offensive” cards.