Sunday, July 10, 2016

A Long History of Girls Basketball at BHS

I saw a notice in my Facebook feed today that the Brookline High Girls Basketball coaching staff is kicking off its version of Basketball Night—coaching sessions for 3rd through 12th grade girls—at Schluntz Gym tomorrow night. By coincidence, just yesterday I had come across the picture below, showing BHS girls practicing basketball way back in 1902.

BHS Girls Basket Ball 1902
Image credit: Harper's Weekly (Click here for larger view)

The image is from an article on "College Girls and Basket-Ball" in the February 22, 1902 issue of Harper's Weekly. BHS is the only high school pictured, along with images from Wellesley, Smith, Bryn Mawr, and Newcomb College in New Orleans.

The location is uncertain. My best guess is that it's behind the 1893 high school building, the first built on the current site. That would put it approximately where the courtyard and the auditorium wing are today. (The rise in the background would be the beginning of Aspinwall Hill.)

Basketball was "the most popular sport with women across the United States in the first years of the twentieth century," wrote Paul John Hutchinson in a recent doctoral dissertation at Boston University.1 That certainly appears to have been the case at BHS.

An 1898 report from the Committee on Physical Training of the Brookline Education Society reported that

The game of basket ball is at present very popular. It is a game which both sexes may play, but is especially appropriate for the girls. Several outfits for this game have been provided. The committee is not yet ready to report on the benefits of this plan.

In February 1898—just seven years after the game was invented by James Naismith in Springfield— an exhibition of BHS girls basketball was the closing event at a Town Hall demonstration of games and gymnastics engaged in by students in the Brookline schools.

By the early 20th century, the Brookline girls basketball team was playing in competition against other local high schools and even occasionally against college teams. 

Brookline - Dedham Girls Basketball 1904, Boston Globe
Boston Globe, February 19, 1904
BHS - Radcliffe Basket Ball Game 1904
Boston Globe, December 14, 1904

Apparently, not everyone was in favor of girls playing basketball. In 1901, Prof.William F. Bradbury of Cambridge Latin School, responding to a favorable report by BHS teacher Arthur W. Roberts, spoke in opposition:

I have had some experience in Cambridge with basket ball [said Bradbury], and I find it makes the girls rough, loud-voiced and bold.

Let's be thankful his view did not prevail, and look forward to more loud-voiced, bold, straight-shooting girls on and off the court.

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