Tuesday, May 21, 2019

On This Day - "Bohn to Open Girls' League"

Today, we have a rare two-fer "On This Day" review of the Milwaukee Chicks' championship year. Earlier, we looked at an incredible human-interest story in the Milwaukee Sentinel about players in the All-American Girls Professional Ball League's Spring Training in Peru, Illinois. There was a second piece on that same page, uncredited, that is equally valuable for what it tells us about the Chicks' plan for opening day.

Bohn to Open Girls' League

Milwaukee's first All-American Girls' Professional Ball league season will open in "big league" style Saturday at 2:30 p.m.at Borchert field with Manager Max Carey's "Brewerettes" meeting the South Bend Blue Sox.

Pregame ceremonies include tossing of the first ball by Mayor John L. Bohn; parading of Wacs, Waves, Spars, women marines, legionnaires and players of the two teams, flag raising and the firing of a salute by an American Legion unit.
The first thing we notice is the name. "Brewerettes"?

Like many clubs in the early days of baseball, the All-American league used its nicknames more unofficially than today. Nicknames did not appear on uniforms or on official league materials; the Chicks were referred to almost exclusively as "Milwaukee". Nonetheless, team nicknames are essential, and the league appeared to take a "kid sister" approach to its two new franchises. For the first time, they were in cities with established and beloved men's baseball teams, and sought to borrow a little of that good will by borrowing the names.

The Minneapolis club became known as the "Millerettes" after the American Association club, and the Milwaukee club appeared to be trying out the name "Brewerettes". The Millerettes would acquire another nickname after losing their home and becoming a traveling team: the Orphans. That is the name I prefer for them, but in the official AAGPBL records they remain "Millerettes" to this day. On the other hand, and fortunately for all involved, "Brewerettes" was roundly rejected before the season even started, and the papers would be left to come up with a nickname on their own. Ah, but that is a story for another day.

It's also revealing to see what kind of Opening Day festivities the league had planned for Borchert Field. For those unfamiliar with some of the terms in the article, those refer to women's auxillary units during the war. They're actually acronyms: Women's Army Corps was the Army branch, Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service as you might suspect was for the Navy, SPARS for the Coast Guard (derived from the Coast Guard's Latin motto Semper Paratus, meaning "Always Ready").

The Marines eschewed such nicknames, simply calling their women's branch the "United States Marine Corps Women's Reserve". Or as in this case, "women marines".

I'm intrigued by the association. Natural enough in wartime, I suppose. Patriotic displays were all the rage, and what could be more natural than pairing women in service uniforms with women in baseball uniforms?

But the women's branches of the military did have something in common with the All-American League. They all involved new opportunities for women, opening up jobs that were traditionally reserved for men. And as women were sometimes grudgingly accepted into the service because there just weren't enough men to do the job, Philip K. Wrigley founded the AAGPBL in part out of fear that men's baseball would be forced to shutter during the war. And, of course, when the war was over, both struggled to reconcile those new opportunities with an expected return to traditional roles.

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