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  • The History Center of Lake Forest-Lake Bluff

Where Was the Midwest’s First Women’s Basketball Game? Lake Forest

By the History Center of Lake Forest-Lake Bluff

With basketball season ramping up, we bring you a story that goes way back in the annals of local sports history. In February of 1896 – just five years after Dr. James Naismith invented the game – excitement was mounting in Lake Forest for the battle between Ferry Hall and Mitchell Hall (Lake Forest University’s female dormitory, named for astronomer Maria Mitchell). Newspapers billed it as “the first match of basketball ever played by women in the West.”

The Ferry Hall basketball team of 1896. They would have to wait a bit longer, though, for the first basket. The final score? Zero to zero, with both teams claiming victory and clamoring for a rematch.

The 0-0 tie was by no means the end of the story. The rematch scheduled a month later fanned the flames of the rivalry into full-fledged hostilities. The second game, a shootout compared to the first, ended in a 9-3 Mitchell Hall victory. The Ferry Hall team immediately claimed bias in the officiating. (They may have had cause: the referee, Rosalind Brown, was a Mitchell student.)

In keeping with the standards of the day, male students were banned from watching the Ferry Hall game against Mitchell Hall. The men offered their female counterparts up to $1 for the ten-cent ticket. But according to newspaper accounts, “their entreaties fell upon deaf ears.”

The two games took place at Mitchell Hall’s home court, the Gymnasium, now Hotchkiss Hall. Mitchell Hall refused to play in Ferry Hall’s gym, citing the unfit playing conditions: the ceilings were too low for regulation baskets, and a row of posts ran through the center of the court. This is probably why the team began practicing on the “basketball field” outdoors, pictured in one of the school’s viewbooks.

Back in the day, basketball was often played outdoors -- including at Ferry Hall.

Ferry Hall demanded a third game, but this time on their home turf. When they were refused, the discourse devolved further, with the Ferry Hall girls sniping that their elder counterparts at Mitchell Hall were “mean old maids” and “farmers and sluggers.” Not surprisingly, a third match did not materialize that year. But women’s basketball was off to a rip-roaring start in the West. Visit the History Center of lake Forest-Lake Bluff website to learn more about our past.


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