Features appear in each issue of Pennsylvania Heritage showcasing a variety of subjects from various periods and geographic locations in Pennsylvania.

Wearing a high-necked dress with puffed sleeves and narrow waist, Lizzie Stride (1877-1919) looks like the perfect Gibson girl, the idealized American young woman of the 1890s created by popular illustra­tor Charles Dana Gibson (1867-1944) and copied at the turn of the century by scores of commercial artists. Like the Gibson girl – images of whom eventually appeared on early automobile calendars, souvenir china, desk blotters, cigar bands, compacts, and an assortment of ladies accessories – Lizzie was beautiful. She was also athletic and dignified. But there is much more in the charcoal sketch of a young woman once hailed in publicity posters as “the most famous lady pitcher in the world.” A lingering look reveals force and capacity in Lizzie’s bearing; her firm jaw flashes youthful confidence and something best described as pluck; the eyes shimmer, honest and gentle. All are qualities that suggest the varying attributes – strength, determination, resilience, selflessness, and grace – that defined Elizabeth Ann Stride her whole life.

Lizzie Stride, the first woman to receive a minor league baseball contract and to play a regulation game, was born in Mahanoy City, Schuylkill County, on August 31, 1877. She was the youngest of the six children of Henry and Mary Stride, who emigrated from Great Britain and settled in northeastern Pennsylva­nia’s anthracite fields, where her father became a hotel keeper. Lizzie’s mother died when she was only eight, and her stepmother when she was fifteen. Despite these losses, she seems from the begin­ning to have shown an independent and lively spirit, stepping beyond the usual activities for girls, enjoying and perfect­ing her natural athletic abilities. Her brothers and father introduced Lizzie to baseball and the art of pitching. The coal region had produced outstanding baseball players such as Stan and Harry Coveleski and, earlier, Jack Stivetts. A tall, strong pitcher for the Boston Beaneaters (lineal predecessors of today’s Atlanta Braves), Stivetts grew up in Ashland, about a dozen miles west of Mahanoy City. Like today’s Greg Maddux, Stivetts could hit a home run to help himself and his team win a game. In 1892, he won thirty-five games, one of them a no-hitter, and batted .296. His wins as well as his .296 batting average helped lead the Beaneaters to the pennant. During his short time in the majors, Stivetts won more than two hundred games and hit close to .300. At one point in his career, he made time to help Lizzie sharpen her pitching skills.

Immersing herself in a number of sports, Lizzie was celebrated in Mahanoy City as the first girl to learn to ride a bicycle. Indeed, she played a sport in every season. By the age of eleven she was an expert roller skater and gave exhibitions in rinks throughout Pennsyl­vania. She became a skilled horsewoman, “handling her father’s spirited gray horse on the track,” observed one newspaper reporter, “and driving him on to success in more than one race.” Lizzie also competed in polo, reportedly playing with a prestigious Philadelphia club. If all this wasn’t enough, her father taught her to pigeon and wing shoot and she became a recognized champion amateur shot.

Of the sports at which she excelled, though, it was baseball that swept Lizzie Stride to fame.

During the 1890s, baseball mania swept the country, particularly in the eastern states, where the game first began. Teams of every imaginable sort became the order of the day. Besides men’s teams, organizers were building specialty teams composed of women, children, black men, black women, one­-armed men, old men, or men playing left-handed against women playing right­-handed. Where people look for and will pay for novelty, promoters abound, and such was the case in 1898, according to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Captain William J. Conner, well known in sporting and theatrical circles, heard of [Lizzie], went out to see her play, and engaged her on sight at $100 per week to finish the season under his management. Captain Conner is very proud of his new star and sees millions in her.

With Conner as promoter, twenty-two-­year-old Stride appeared in her first professional game on July 2, 1898. Pitching four innings for the Philadelphia Reserves, she gave up six hits and three unearned runs. Many ballplayers then­ – and later – Americanized their surnames. Pittsburgh Pirate and Hall of Famer Maximillian Carnarius became Max Carey in 1900; John Paveskovich became Johnny Pesky of the Boston Red Sox in 1940. Lizzie, whose family name hardly needed such adjustment, chose to glamorize hers and give it an English air by dropping Stride in favor of the name Arlington. It was as Lizzie Arlington that she stepped up to the plate in her first professional game and collected two hits off former major league pitcher Mike Kilroy. After pitching her four innings, she finished the game at second base as the Reserves defeated Richmond, 18-5.

Although Conner had expected thousands to turn out to see a woman pitch, only five hundred spectators showed. Lizzie’s potential prevailed, and another baseball representative, Edward Grant Barrow, who would go on to become chief executive of the New York Yankees during the golden era of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, signed her to an official minor league contract and on July 5, 1898, she pitched in a regulation minor league game for Reading against Allen­town – the first (and, until 1997, the only) woman to appear in an official game in professional baseball. A writer for the Reading Eagle captured the day’s excite­ment.

Miss Arlington with several other persons drove on the grounds in a stylish carriage drawn by two white horses. To the applause that greeted her she lifted her cap. The spectators beheld a plump young woman with attractive face and rosy cheeks. She wore a gray uniform with skirt coming to the knees, black stockings and a jaunty cap. Her hair was not cropped short, but was done up in the latest fashion.

She practiced with Reading and played 2nd base. She made several stops, but the very hot “daisy-cutters” she left to Ulrich. She made several neat throws. She went about it like a professional, even down to expectorating on her hands and wiping her hands on her uniform. Miss Arlington was put in the 9th when Reading was 5 tallies to the good. Joe Delahanty, the first batter to face her, fouled to Heydon. Lyons shoved a little grounder to the female twirler, who threw him out at 1st. Seagrave and Jim Delahanty made safe cracks and Boyle walked. With bases full, Cleve gave Newell a foul. “Good for Lizzie,” shrieked the crowd. She shook hands with number. Miss Arlington might do as a pitcher among amateurs, but the sluggers of the Atlantic League would soon put her out of the business. She, of course, hasn’t the strength to get much speed on and has poor control. But, for a women, she is a success …

Won by Reading 5-0, the game was watched by a crowd of one thousand, which included two hundred women. Three of the five ball-playing Delahanty brothers of Cleveland appeared in this game: Tom, who had already been in the majors; Joe, who would play in the majors for three years; and Jim, who made it to the big leagues in 1901 and spent thirteen years there, compiling a .282 batting average.

Like Conner, Barrow believed that the novelty of a female pitcher would bring in considerable gate money. When that failed to occur, partly because the economy was poor, Lizzie and her high salary became expendable.

Although Lizzie’s career in the minor leagues was short-lived, she played baseball for several more years on all-female teams or on Bloomer Girl teams (see “Blues, Bloomers, and Bobbies” by Barbara Gregorich in the Summer 1993 edition). Bloomer Girl teams, which, despite their name, usually consisted of six women and three men (or a combina­tion of seven women and two men), barnstormed the country by train, often starting out in Florida in February and playing their way through the South and into the Midwest. Some traveled to the West Coast, playing in the western states en route. Wherever they went, the Bloomers drew large crowds who came expressly to see a mostly female team pitted against the locale’s best all-male team.

Not long after leaving the minors, Lizzie joined up with Al P. Gibbs of Wapakoneta, Ohio, the first Bloomer Girl organizer and promoter. In 1892, Gibbs had fielded a team that played one hundred fifty-four games, losing ninety-eight of them. Year by year, though, the team’s record improved. By the time Lizzie was playing for Gibbs, at the opening of this century, he was quite successful, even able to afford a special railroad car in which the team traveled. He also gave Lizzie top billing; a poster of the period gives “Miss Lizzie Arlington, The Famous Lady Pitcher,” equal billing with “Ladies Base Ball Club.”

In addition to playing for the Ladies Base Ball Club for at least one season, Lizzie also played for a women’s team, called the Cincinnati Reds. The Reds barnstormed their way to San Francisco, where the owner of the club absconded with the gate receipts (not an uncommon occurrence), stranding the players three thousand miles from home without funds or tickets for their return trip. Ever resourceful, Lizzie Arlington did her part. She kept the ball club together and arranged games against other teams. In this way, game by game, day by day, win or lose, the dauntless team played its way back east, finally arriving in New York City, where Lizzie was able to use the profits to pay for each athlete’s trans­portation home.

According to several reports, Lizzie played for an all-female team that toured with the New York Yankees (then called the Highlanders) during the off-season to play novelty exhibition games.

At the opening of the twentieth century, Lizzie Stride married George H. Warner, a coal miner’s son who had been raised in a tiny patch town (a small village which sprang up around collieries and anthracite operations, such as Eckley Miners’ Village) near Mahanoy City. The couple purchased property in Philadel­phia in August 1901, and the city directory for that year lists Warner’s occupation as bartender. During her years in Philadelphia, where she was known both as Lizzie Stride and as Mrs. George H. Warner (and no longer as Lizzie Arlington), she remained active in sports, taking up ice skating again and, later, tennis. She frequently attended ball games, and was the starting pitcher for a team called the Deadlines.

By 1913, when she was thirty-six years old, Lizzie became a purchasing agent, working in an import business in the Records Building on Chestnut Street. After her husband’s death three years later, Lizzie continued working and became prosperous enough to purchase her own home on North Twelfth Street. At the age of forty-four, she underwent surgery for an abdominal abscess and died not long afterwards, on March 14, 1919, in Lankenau Hospital. She was buried with her husband in a cemetery overlooking Mahanoy City.

Lizzie was survived by one sister, Elvira Campbell of Reading, and two brothers, John of Coles Patch and James of Mahanoy City. In her will she mentioned six nieces, one of whom, Marie Edwards, was the daughter of Lizzie’s sister Margaret, who had died in 1901. Marie Edwards was the mother of Margaret Downing, who, through family research, discovered both a photograph of Lizzie as a schoolgirl and a charcoal sketch of her as a young woman.

Although Lizzie’s career in the minor leagues was brief, she remained in the memories of those who knew her or watched her play. More than fifty years after he hired her, Edward Barrow, giving an interview to a reporter during the 1950s – a time when the notion of women’s participation in sports was not popular – remembered well his star attraction. “The sensible thing, I would think, is to accept or reject a player on merit alone. I admit that I signed Lizzie strictly as a stunt,” Barrow recalled, “but I’m not so sure she couldn’t win a spot somewhere in organized ball if she were in her prime today.”

Lizzie Stride came from the working class and lived in a time when, at least in part because they appealed to the public’s desire for novelty, many athletically gifted women were afforded opportunities for wide attention. She was able to develop the physical abilities with which nature had endowed her. She and others like her paved the way for society women, who soon sought the independence, pleasures, and feeling of well-being offered by recreational activities and sports that had once been off limits to them. But Lizzie also can be remembered as a woman whose gifts extended beyond the physical. When her baseball team was left stranded thousands of miles from home, she took it upon herself to shepherd her teammates safely back. Her obituary cited her “deeds of kindness” and noted that she had a “charitable nature and delighted in aiding those in distress.”

Perhaps the gazing eyes in the portrait of Lizzie peer inward – not only at the life of a woman who worked to fulfill her own promise, but one who never forgot the needs of others and gave to them with the same stubbornness and pleasure with which she lived her days. She was, indeed, a champion for all seasons.

 

For Further Reading

Dyer, K. F. Challenging the Men: Women in Sport. Australia: University of Queensland Press, 1982.

Gregorich, Barbara. Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball. New York: Harcourt Brace Janovich, 1993.

Postow, Betsy C., ed. Women, Philosophy and Sport: A Collection of New Essays. Metuchen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1983.

 

The author and editor thank Margaret Downing of Springfield, Virginia, for her gra­ciousness in lending the portrait of Lizzie Stride, her grand-aunt, to illustrate this arti­cle.

The editor gratefully acknowledges the assis­tance of Mark Rucker of Transcendental Graphics, Boulder, Colorado, for locating and lending rare illustrations to accompany this
article.

 

Barbara Gregorich of Chicago is the author of the award-winning Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball (1993) and Reading Baseball: Activities for Grades 5-8 (1997). Her baseball novel, She’s on First, was well received. Her sports articles have appeared in USA Today and Baseball Weekly. “Blues, Bloomers, and Bobbies” appeared in the Summer 1993 edition of Pennsylvania Heritage.