These days, women’s sports are as popular as men’s sports, but women’s sports have not always been a thing. In fact, until March 22, 1893, when the first women’s college basketball game was played at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, there was no such thing…not in college anyway. There were women’s sports before that…even as far back as the 6th century, but they were not something that men watched. In 1893, the idea of men watching women play basketball was…unthinkable. These things were considered improper and leud. That all changed with the game at Smith College. In that game, each basket counted as one point and the game lasted two 15-minute halves. In the game, the sophomore class team prevailed over a freshmen team, 5-4. It must have been a great game, but men were still not permitted inside the gym at the all-women college. Still, it was women’s basketball, and a crowd of fascinated women cheered on their fellow classmates from the running track of the campus gymnasium. They were making history, and everyone was excited about it. The winning team was awarded a gold and white banner, but the bigger win that day was that collegiate history had been made, and women’s sports was now and forevermore a definite thing!!

Women have participated in sports for many years, but it was never competitive, until that day. The “instigator” of the event was the college’s gymnastics instructor, Lithuanian immigrant Senda Berenson. Basketball hadn’t been around very long, in fact, it was just two short years since its invention by Dr James Naismith in late 1891. Berenson adapted the women’s rules from Naismith’s rules for men. Because of this adaptation, basketball became one of the rare sports that developed the male and female versions on a parallel timeline. We all know what basketball is like today. We have watched as the athletes jump up to “slam dunk” the ball into the soft net (made of synthetic fibers), grab the rim, and then let it go, making a bouncing ringing sound as it is released. The “basket” these days has an open bottom, making it not a true basket. The baskets of the past truly were a basket…usually a peach basket, with a closed bottom. The object of the game was to land a soccer ball into peach baskets suspended at opposite ends of a court.

The rules intentionally limit physical contact, but things don’t always go as planned. In that first competitive women’s game, a player on the freshmen team dislocated her shoulder at the beginning of the game, leaving her team a player down for the rest of the game. Versions of Berenson’s game quickly spread to other women’s colleges throughout the country. Women’s competitive basketball was born. The first women’s intercollegiate game was between Stanford and Cal, and was played in 1896. Berenson, who died in 1954, was enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame as a contributor in 1985. She was inducted into the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999.

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