Women play the first night game at Wrigley Field

Did women play the first night game at Wrigley Field?

Yes, they did, if you’re talking about the first night game under lights. It was 70 years ago today — July 1, 1943 — when two all-star teams of the All-American Girls Softball League played each other as part of a rally for the Women Army Auxiliary Corp (WAAC).

AAGPBL night game

An AAGPBL night game but not THE night game. There are no known photos of the July 1, 1943 game — the first played under lights in Wrigley Field.

The WAAC rally was announced in mid-June without mention of the All-American Girls’ Softball League game. The big draw was a softball game scheduled for 6:00 p.m. between two WAAC teams, the Fort Sheridan Comets and the Camp Grant Rockets, to be followed by a calisthenics drill and a military drill featuring WAAC recruits.

WAAC Recruiting in High Gear

This was a year and a half after the U.S. had entered the war and the WAAC were in full recruitment mode. The rally announcement was directed to “women between 21 and 45, those who are eligible for enrollment in the WAAC.”

Admission was free for all, and women would be able to sign up for the WAAC any time during the rally.

All-American Girls Softball League Added to Rally

By June 27, rally promotion included a second game between two all-star teams of the professional All-American Girls’ Softball League. They were to play after the WAAC game and military demonstration.  The lights wouldn’t need to be turned on until about 8:30 p.m., which was the estimated time the All-American game would start.

“Much of the all-star game will be played under lights, which will be their first use for that purpose in Wrigley Field,” noted the Kenosha News on the day of the game.

Playing Night Game Under Lights No Big Deal

That was as much excitement as any of the pre- or post-game coverage exhibited about playing in Wrigley Field under lights. Perhaps it because Philip Wrigley had already publicly stated that if fans wanted night games, lights would be installed in Wrigley Field as soon as equipment was available. Or perhaps it was because no one at that point realized it would be 45 years before that actually happened.

The All-American League created an Illinois-Indiana team composed of players from the Rockford Peaches and South Bend Blue Sox and a Wisconsin team of players from the Kenosha Comets and the Racine Belles.

Fans Helped to Choose the All-Stars

Fans for all four teams were asked to mail in their choices for the all-star teams to their local newspaper.  The deadline for submitting choices was June 29 and everyone who entered received a free ticket to a regular League game in their home town.

There was a flood of last-minute voting, which had the League administrators scrambling to keep up. The roster was as follows:

From the Kenosha Comets, pitchers Helen Nicol and Elise Harney, catcher Helen Westerman, first base Janice O’Hara, third base Ann Harnett and center fielder Shirley Jameson.

From the Racine Belles, pitchers Mary Nesbitt and Gloria Marks, catcher Irene Hickson, second base Sophie Kurys, shortstop Dorothy Wind, infielder Madeline, left fielder Edythe Perlick, right fielder Eleanor Dapkus, outfielder Clara Schillace.

From the Rockford Peaches, pitchers Olive Little and Marjorie Peters, catcher Dorothy Greene, shortstop Gladys Davis, third base Mildred Warwick, right fielder Eileen Burmeister and outfielder Betty Jane Fritz.

From the South Bend Blue Sox, pitchers Margaret Berger and Doris Barr, catcher Mary Baker, first base Johanna Hageman, second base Margaret Stefani, infielder Lois Florreich, left fielder Betsy Jochum and center fielder Josephine D’Angelo.

Josh Billings was named to manage the Wisconsin team and Eddie Stumpf the Illinois-Indiana team.

News Coverage Was Sparse

There wasn’t a lot of coverage of the game itself and no photos that I can find. The Wisconsin all-star team clobbered the Illinois-Indiana team 16-0 before a crowd of 7,000.

Here’s the game summary featured in both the Kenosha and Rockford papers:

Outfielder Shirley Jameson, Maywood school teacher who plays for Kenosha, was an all-around star for the Wisconsin team…Eleanor Dapkus, Chicago girl who plays the outfield for Racine, got the longest hit of the game when she tripled down the left field line with the bases loaded in the third inning.

Helen Nicol, Kenosha hurler from Calgary, Canada, pitched no-hit ball during her three-inning effort and a teammate, Elise Harney, of Jacksonville, Ill., was nicked for the first Illinois-Indiana hit when Josephine D’Angelo singled after two out in the seventh inning. The other hit by the losers was pitcher Olive Little’s infield hit to open the ninth.

Dorothy Hunter, a player with the Rockford Peaches not chosen to play in the July 1st game, was present as a spectator. She remembered that the lights were barely adequate.

“You were lucky you could see who was sitting next to you,” she said. “The outfielders were dead ducks; the ball went up in the air and they didn’t know where it was.”

A small part of the 12-year history of the All-American Girls 
Professional Baseball League. For more, buy the ebook for $3.99. 
Just click on the link in the right-hand side bar.
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About Lois Browne

I'm a mystery writer, blogger and traveller.
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