How did the history of women’s rights in the U.S. intersect with sporting culture during and in the aftermath of World War II?
This lesson examines the history of women’s rights in the United States, in particular the ways in which sporting culture has provided a forum for women to contest, challenge and even extend those rights. Through the pre-lesson activity and into the lesson that follows, students will be introduced to some of the essential moments in the long struggle for women’s rights, including those connected with the suffrage movement. They’ll come to understand that advances in women’s social and political power cannot be separated from the changes that have taken place in American sports.
At the center of the lesson is a unique moment during World War II when women became an integral part of professional baseball in the United States. Just as female workers took industrial jobs in order to replace the many men who left for combat overseas, female athletes covered for men in professional baseball. The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, started in 1943, drew almost a million fans a year at its peak. And then, when the war ended, there was an abrupt “re-domestication” of the female population.
Returning soldiers, whether they had been factory workers or baseball players, expected to come home to their jobs after the war. Those same women who entered the workplace or played baseball during the war suddenly had to give up their positions. For many women, this return to pre-war norms was abrupt, difficult. Having had the experience of increased empowerment, they felt more keenly than ever the gender differences that defined American life. This lesson takes students into the heart of a remarkable historical turning point.
Students will be able to:
- Analyze historical photographs and interpret their complex messaging.
- Evaluate graphs and tables in order to understand changes in the American workforce relating to World War II.
- Analyze the impact of World War II on American gender relations.
- Evaluate critical arguments surrounding gender and sporting culture.
- Situate women’s baseball in relation to a timeline of women’s rights in the U.S.
- Compare the roles of women in baseball during and after the wider social shifts associated with World War II.
- Take a critical position on women’s roles in baseball during World War II, discussing why this phenomenon did or did not represent an advance for women.
1. World War II & the Emergence of Women’s Baseball
2. All-American Girls Professional Baseball League
Nonfiction that deals with the history of women’s rights:
Archer, Jules. The Feminist Revolution: A Story of the Three Most Inspiring and Empowering Women in American History: Susan B. Anthony, Margaret Sanger, and Betty Friedan. New York: Sky Pony Press, 2015.
Bausum, Ann. With Courage and Cloth: Winning the Fight for a Right to Vote. Boone: National Geographic Society, 2004.
Young adult nonfiction dealing with feminism and identity:
Jensen, Kelly (ed.). Here We Are: Feminism for the Real World. Chapel Hill: Algonquin Young Readers, 2017.
Ngozi Adichie, Adichie. We Should All Be Feminists. New York: Anchor Books, 2015.
Nugent, Alida. You Don’t Have to Like Me: Essays on Growing Up, Speaking Up, and Finding Feminism. New York: Plume, 2015.
Valenti, Jessica. Full Frontal Feminism. Berkeley: Seal Press, 2007.
Young adult nonfiction that deals with baseball history and gender:
Macy, Sue. A Whole New Ball Game: The Story of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. New York: Henry Holt, 1993.
Historical fiction/nonfiction works written in the time of second-wave feminism (for high school students):
French, Marilyn. The Women’s Room. New York: Ballantine, 1977.
Friedan, Betty. The Feminine Mystique. New York: W. W. Norton, 1963.
In the Museum
For educators who would like to build on their classroom experiences with a visit to the Yogi Berra Museum & Learning Center, below are lesson-related images from the Museum’s collections. See the Museum’s Groups & Tours page for group visit details.