Cubs and Ladies' Day, Part 1

"Ladies' Day," when women were admitted to games for free, was a regular feature of the Cubs' schedule for many years -- and a wildly popular one.

In 1929, Glenn Stout wrote "The Cubs," his magisterial history of the team, "On Ladies' Day in August, a mob of more than thirty thousand women and twenty thousand men overwhelmed the turnstiles and stormed the park, occupying every available space in what was probably the largest crowd in Wrigley Field history. Some estimated that more than sixty thousand fans pushed their way inside."

The day after Jackie Robinson's first appearance at Wrigley Field in 1947, Edward Burns wrote in the Chicago Tribune:

"The crowd, by the way, was the second largest in the history of Wrigley Field for a league game, being topped only by the gathering of 51,556 in 1930, under the old bleacher setup, when overflow field crowds were tolerated. That crowd, however, included 30,476 ladies day crasherettes."

Yes, "crasherettes."



Multiple websites tell tales of the Cubs' Ladies' Day history.

This was posted in 2017 at the Wrigleyville page of the Baseball Prospectus site:

"On June 4th, 1919, Congress passed the 19th Amendment, granting women the right to vote. Six days later, Illinois became the first state to ratify the 19th Amendment. . . . Eight months later, Chicago founded the League of Women Voters, a national effort to support the new amendment.

"Recognizing the significance of women ever earlier than Illinois' state government, however, were [Cubs Owner William] Wrigley Jr. and Cubs President Bill Veeck.

"On June 6th, the club held its first Ladies' Day, a promotion offering women aged 14+ free admission to Friday home games."



But that game in 1919 was not the Cubs' first Ladies' Day.

It had happened nearly 3 decades earlier, on June 26, 1890!



Horse racing tracks offered free admission to women even earlier than ballparks.

There was a Ladies' Day in 1879 at Jerome Park Racetrack, located in a part of Westchester County, New York later annexed as part of the Bronx. The track was home to the Belmont Stakes from its inception in 1867 through 1889.

Ladies' Day at the Chicago Driving Park was advertised on the front page of the Tribune on July 5, 1882.

There were Ladies' Days in Chicago, too, at the opera, at theaters, even at 6-day bicycle races.


The first Major League baseball game that women could watch without paying for a ticket is said to have been on June 25, 1883, when the Providence Grays hosted the New York Gothams, today's Giants.

"There were 1,446 people present," said a wire service account of the game contained in the next day's Chicago Tribune, "490 of them being ladies admitted free, it being 'Ladies' Day.' "


But in my research, I found evidence that there had been Ladies' Days the previous year, 1882, at the home park of the Philadelphia Athletics of the American Association, a rival league that began play that season.

"On and after July 5 every Thursday will be known as 'Ladies' Day,' when ladies accompanied by a gentleman will be admitted free to the ground and grand stand," the Inter Ocean, a Chicago paper, noted on June 24, 1882.

There was no mention of women in the the Philadelphia Inquirer's report on the Athletics' game of Thursday, July 6.

But 2 weeks later, it noted:

"At Oakdale Park yesterday, the Athletics easily defeated the St. Louis by a score of 17 to 5. Over two thousand people witnessed the contest, included two hundred ladies, who occupied seats on the grand stand."



The American Association endured for 10 seasons, through 1891, despite losing the Pittsburgh Alleghenys (today's Pirates) to the National League after 1886, then the Brooklyn Bridegrooms (today's Dodgers) and Cincinnati Reds, both after 1889.

Another league, the Union Association, lasted only 1 year, 1884.

Then, in 1890, the Players League opened for business. It was founded by the Brotherhood of Professional Base Ball Players, organized to oppose the reserve clause and cap on salaries instituted by the 2 existing leagues.

Most of the game's best players signed with the new league, including 7 members of the White Stockings, as the Cubs were known at the time. Among the 7 was Fred Pfeffer, second baseman for the "Whites" since 1883, who became captain of Chicago's team in the PL, which newspapers quickly nicknamed the Pirates.



The Pirates played only 11 of their first 41 games at home, but owned a 21-20 record after sweeping 3 games at Cleveland, June 12-14. They returned home to host Cleveland for 4 games, the last on Thursday, June 19.

"This is ladies' day at Brotherhood Park," the Tribune said that morning, "ladies accompanied by escorts being admitted free to the game and grand stand."

The Pirates had lost 2 of the first 3 games, but won that afternoon, 20-9.

"[T]he grand stand was a bouquet of bright dresses and brighter eyes, of lorgnettes and sailor hats," wrote the Inter Ocean. "The sight was an inspiration in itself. In addition 1,500 gallant men loosened up their tonsils and cheered and rooted, and rooted, and cheered, the whole gay afternoon.

"How merry, how jolly, it all was!"

Among the notes accompanying the story of the game, the Inter Ocean asked:

"Will Mr. Fred Pfeffer wear a red, red, rose on his breast every ladies' day! If he does, the pennant is ours."



The White Stockings had replaced their departed stars with younger players, prompting newspapers to call them "Anson's Colts," which soon was shortened to the Colts.

The day the Pirates were throttling Cleveland, the Colts lost their fourth straight game, at Cincinnati, making their record 23-20, slightly better than the Pirates' 23-22.

Their next 15 games would be at home -- but so would the Pirates' next 15, and almost all on the same day as the Colts' games.

The times they had gone head to head previously, the Pirates had drawn bigger crowds than the Colts. Clearly, the Colts needed to do something to lure more fans.



For starters, they focused on women.

This was published in the Tribune on Monday, June 23:

Ladies' Day at League Park.

The Chicago League Club will Thursday inaugurate a Ladies' Day and continue it throughout the season.

All ladies will be admitted to the grounds and grand stand free.

"Professional Day" will also be continued, President [Albert] Spalding having set apart Fridays for the entertainment of the theatrical and base-ball professions.


The first Ladies' Day, then, was on June 26.

"Most of the boxes were occupied, it being 'ladies' day,' " noted the Tribune in its account of the Colts' 11-5 victory over Brooklyn.

The game took place in front of 1,326 spectators. Meanwhile, the Pirates attracted nearly twice as many, 2,612, to their 10-6, Ladies' Day win over Boston.



From the Tribune of Sunday, June 29:


The fight between the league and brotherhood has its amusing phrases, and in no place more so than in Chicago. . . .

The "Pirates" established "ladies' day" at their park, and Mr. Spalding saw the raise and went it one better. He not only established "ladies' day," but "professionals' day" as well, when all the actors in the city were invited to attend the game.

The "Pirates" were not to be outdone, and proceeded to invite the actors in the city to be present the day set aside as the National League Park for them.

Then next movie will be awaited with interest. It is an ill wind that blows nobody good, and the fair sex, at least, has benefited by the war.

"Ladies' day" promises to be popular, and since it was inaugurated the ladies have attended the games in large numbers and evinced a remarkable interest in the proceedings. This should be encouraged.

President Byrnes of the Brooklyn club once said he would rather have fifty ladies in the stand to preserve order than the same number of policemen. The presence of ladies has always had a marked effect on the rowdy element more or less inseparable from the National Game.

Apart from the benefit of the game, the ladies themselves are wonderfully benefited by the move. Lack of outdoor exercise by the American woman is acknowledged to be one of the evils of the day, and an afternoon spent in the open air at a ball game must prove of incalculable benefit.



On July 1, the Tribune reported that the Colts' owner had raised the ante again:

"President Spalding, much pleased at the success of 'Ladies day' at the West Side Park, yesterday decided to admit ladies free to all the games this week between the Chicagos and the Philadelphias and Bostons.

"Fourth of July will be no exception, as ladies with escorts will be admitted free to both games that day."

For a couple of days after that announcement, the Colts outdrew the Pirates. But on Independence Day, 23,523 swarmed to the Pirates' 2 games, compared to 12,226 to the Colts' pair.



For all 46 days during the season on which both teams played at home, the Pirates averaged 2,639 fans, which was 50 percent more than the Colts' average of 1,756.

On those 46 days, the Pirates had larger crowds at their park on the city's south side 32 times; the Colts, on the west side, 14.

On Closing Day, Saturday, Oct. 4, the count Pirates 200, Colts 0.

"The wind-up of the base-ball season yesterday was dismal enough to make one shudder to think of it," the Tribune wrote the next day.

"The West Side people did not have the courage to attempt to play, and their game was declared off.

"At the South Side, although the grounds was a quagmire, five inning were played, the score ending in a tie [at 2].

"At the end of the fifth inning it commenced to rain and the game was called, to the intense delight of the 200 spectators who sat in the stands and tried to get up some enthusiasm."



That proved to be the last game for the Pirates, as the Players League disbanded after the season.

In 1891, the Colts took over the Pirates' south side park, playing 36 games there and 31 at their previous home on the west side.

They average 2,834 fans, an increase of 66 percent over their 1,711 a year earlier.

None of them were women admitted for free. The demise of the Pirates also meant the demise of Ladies' Day at Colts games.

The team did not make any formal announcement of the decision -- at least, none was reported in the Tribune or Inter Ocean. But neither newspaper mentioned "Ladies' Day" in any of its stories about the Colts in 1891, or for many years thereafter.



Some other teams continued the practice.

On April 7, 1891, the Inter Ocean wrote:

"Last year, Louisville's American Association team admitted ladies free 'every day and Sunday too.' As the team only cleared $45 on the season in spite of the fact that it won the championship, the management has come to the conclusion that 'every day ladies' day' is not a good thing. They have drawn the line, and the ladies will have only one day in the week. The Louisville players have set up a big howl over the innovation; they want the ladies to gaze on their manly forms from one end of the week to the other."

The Colts played on Ladies' Days at Cincinnati in 1897 and at Washington in 1898.

But there was not another such day in Chicago until 1901, and the team revived the tradition was not the Colts, now known as the Orphans, but a new rival for the city's baseball fans.


TOMORROW: Ladies' Day in the Modern Era

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