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9 Incredible Images of Black Women’s Basketball Teams in the Early 1900s

Avatar • Oct 26, 2015

Before the integration of the National Basketball Association (NBA) in 1950, black people who desired to play basketball were all but excluded from the sport. They were not allowed to play on white teams or in white-owned gyms. Church basements, dance ballrooms and various meeting spaces became the setting for games during that time.

Consequently, all-black basketball teams were formed:

Teams made up entirely of African American players were often known as “colored quints,” “Negro cagers,” or “black fives.”

The name Black Fives stuck and went on to become associated with the time period of 1904–1950 when all black basketball teams created their own place in the sport. Not long after that black women also decided to get in on the action.

In 1910, the New York Girls formed in Manhattan. They were one of the first all black women’s basketball teams. The women’s basketball teams were often created as ‘sister teams’ to men’s basketball teams:

The New York Girls formed as a sister club to the pioneering Alpha Physical Culture Club men’s basketball team. Their rivals, the Spartan Girls of Brooklyn, were the sister team to the Smart Set Athletic Club men’s organization. It was common and maybe even encouraged for female players to marry male players on their counterpart teams.

The first recorded basketball game between two independently organized all-black women’s basketball teams, the New York Girls and the Jersey Girls, was February 26, 1910.

The New York Girls basketball team, 1910.

The New York Girls basketball team, 1910. Source

Soon after the New York Girls were established, came the Spartan Girls.

spartan girls of brooklyn

The Spartan Girls of Brooklyn, an early all-black female basketball team, circa 1910. Source

Teams such as the Younger Set, Chocolate Coeds, Germantown Hornets and Golden Arrows all followed the inception of the earlier teams.

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The Younger Set team playerSource

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A Younger Set team player Source

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Led by Ora Mae Washington (standing third from the right) and Inez Patterson, who also served as business manager, the Tribune Girls compiled a record of 102 wins against only 12 losses between 1931 and 1934. Sponsored by the Philadelphia Tribune, Philadelphia’s oldest African-American newspaper, the Tribune Girls traveled extensively and took on all opponents, black and white, including African-American college, club, YWCA, and company teams. Source

Unidentified Women's Basketball Team, 1912

Unidentified Women’s Basketball Team, 1912

golden_arrows

Golden Arrows basketball team Source

Much like the difference between the WNBA and the NBA today, the rules slightly differ:

African American women’s basketball teams played using the slightly altered version of the men’s rules. Most of the time there were five players per side, but in some parts of the country, particularly in the South, six players were used, three on offense and three on defense.

This alteration in rules led to much debate but it didn’t stop these women’s teams from dominating on the court.

All black woman basketball team 1935: Columbus Ohio, taken by Prentice Polk

All black woman basketball team 1935: Columbus Ohio, taken by Prentice Polk

African American women's basketball team and coach E.J. Hooper at Oliver High School in Winchester, Kentucky, 1922

African American women’s basketball team and coach E.J. Hooper at Oliver High School in Winchester, Kentucky, 1922

Were you aware of black women’s history in basketball? Did you have any relatives who played?

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About Rinny

Texan by birth, Los Angeleno by situation. Lover of Tame Impala and Shoegaze music. Comedian by trade. Macaroni and Cheese connoisseur by appetite.

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maji
maji
4 years ago

Interesting history of Basketball their outfits are kinda smooth. The rules being different even back says a lot about our society and the way women are seen as bein weaker. Glad they were able to play.

HisMercy
HisMercy
4 years ago

They were beautiful. I hope we (black women) today can make them proud. we stand on the shoulders of giants…

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[…] Need a little history: Images of Black Women’s Basketball Teams in the Early 1900s […]

Marmaduke
Marmaduke
4 years ago

the hair game was on point for a lot of these women. Interesting stuff!

Kofi Khemet
Kofi Khemet
3 years ago

If I’m not mistaken the pic of the women on the Payne team are incorrectly identified as being from Columbus. From what I’ve been able to find, so far, they were sponsored by Cleveland City Councilman Lawrence O Payne, who was obviously connected with Cleveland, not Columbus.

Kofi Khemet
Kofi Khemet
3 years ago

Here’s a link to a Cleveland history website: http://www.ipernity.com/doc/285591/20031269

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