A League That Wasn’t Their Own

Dot Wilkinson, 1960

Why one of the most popular and women-affirming movies of the early nineties got it wrong.

Geena Davis recently wrote an honest article on gender inequality in Hollywood for Time Magazine. In the article, she mentioned starring in the hit film, A League of Their Own —which caused “quite a stir” because it was a successful film featuring a largely female cast. What’s ironic about this is that while A League of Their Own did in fact celebrate women, it also left out crucial facts about the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL) that were demeaning to women and flat out discriminatory against lesbians.

The AAGPBL was never developed for the purpose of giving women a “league of their own.” Philip Wrigley created the league as a simple way to make money during the war.

Wrigley wasn’t interested in gender equality, furthering women’s rights or evening the playing field, so to speak. He was interested in lining his pockets with a gimmick.

Once the league was set up, Wrigley’s scouts traveled across the country in search of softball players who were already in leagues of their own. He dangled a carrot in front of their faces, which included a salary of $85 per week. Naturally, many talented athletes decided to play for the AAGPBL because of the pay. But it cost them something in return.

Each player had to sign a contract, which stipulated that that all players abide by strict rules, which included no fraternizing with other teams, no drinking, no smoking, and no crossing state lines with out permission.

Players also had to dress properly in a skirt or a dress, take etiquette classes, wear make-up, and attend charm school. Yes, a lot of this was shown in the movie.

But what wasn’t mentioned was the fact that these rules were enacted to keep the players from being perceived as lesbians, which many of them were. Wrigley wanted to make sure that female ballplayers were seen as women first and foremost, and ballplayers last.

Author and producer Lynn Ames recently came out with a documentary called, Extra Innings. It’s an inside look into one of the most storied women softball players of all time, Dot Wilkinson. In the documentary, Wilkinson talks openly about being offered an AAGPBL contract, why she turned it down, and why A League of Their Own only captured a snippet of the history of the heyday of women’s softball.

There’s no doubt that the AAGPBL did wonders for women’s sports and deserves its rightful spot in Cooperstown at the National Baseball Hall of Fame. But the movie also did a disservice to female and lesbian softball players who helped make women’s softball what is was, and what it is today, by failing to mention all of the leagues that were popular at that time, and all of the incredible players who were once household names—like Wilkinson.

For a more in-depth article on Dot Wilkinson and her incredible story, pick up a copy of the January Issue of Curve Magazine celebrating Lesbian History.

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