Cool Things - Women's Basketball Uniform
"There was something disquieting in the grim and murderous determinations with which young ladies chased each other all over the court."
—Los Angeles Times reporter describing an early women's basketball game
Born in 1903, Doris Ransdell grew up on a farm near Auburn, Kansas. Though she was a member of the Auburn High School basketball team, she didn't get much playing time. This changed in 1922 when Ransdell moved to Topeka to work for the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe Railway (ATSF).
Several women at ATSF expressed interest in playing basketball. Along with women from Southwestern Bell Telephone Company, they formed a team to play in the Topeka YMCA business league, a city conference comprised of six all-women teams. Trinity Lutheran Church sponsored the team, known as the Topeka Aces.
Women in Basketball
In playing basketball, Ransdell and her teammates were carrying on a sporting tradition that had existed for nearly thirty years. Women had played the game almost since the day James Naismith invented it in 1891. Much as the men's version had, women's basketball spread from the colleges and YWCAs of the East Coast to the South and West via physical education instructors who moved to take jobs at new universities and gymnasiums. The first women's collegiate game in Kansas took place in 1896 at the University of Kansas. Women pioneered the sport at Washburn College, Ottawa University, and Emporia Normal.
Because of the young women's enthusiasm for basketball, young men in Kansas hesitated to play because they found the game effeminate. This was true even though they played by different rules. Many people felt that women were too frail to play basketball or any competitive sport. They argued that play was too physically and mentally taxing, and women would be slow to recover after a game, resulting in diminished ability to have children. Some felt that competitive sport, long associated with masculinity, would rob women of their feminine virtues or encourage women to leave their domestic role. In response to this, a physical education instructor named Senda Berenson adapted Naismith's rules for women, reducing the physicality and maintaining feminine decorum. The rules were amended in 1918 to further restrict play.
The Topeka Aces played by these rules and, as a result, their games looked different from those we watch today. The court was divided into three sections, one under each basket and one across the center. Each team played six women, two for each section of the court. A player could move anywhere inside her area but not out of it. She was allowed three dribbles and a pass to get the ball to her teammates. Swatting at the ball was forbidden, as was guarding outside the vertical plane.
While rule changes made the game less taxing, changes in clothing styles made it safer. Women who played in the early 1890s wore long skirts and slippers. Many bruises, sprains, and broken bones resulted. By the turn of the 20th century, women wore bloomers—baggy, knee-length pants that fastened below the knee—when exercising. As hemlines rose in popular fashion, so did the length of the bloomers. When the Aces were playing in the 1920s, flappers were wearing their skirts above their knees. This is reflected in the shorts worn by the Topeka team. Also view an image of the socks. Hemlines and bloomer length were not the only thing to rise; so did complaints that such uniforms were too revealing. Ironically, attendance at games also rose.
Despite complaints and criticisms, women's basketball became a popular sport and the Topeka Aces became an outstanding team. They never lost a tournament and won the city championship in 1928. According to Ransdell, their success made the team reviled in the Topeka women's basketball community. Players from opposing teams picked flowers from the Aces' championship wreath and threw them on the floor.
Like many others who played the sport, Ransdell proved that competition did not permanently remove a woman from the home. In 1939, she left ATSF to marry Harry Nelson. The couple raised two sons. One of them donated his mother's uniform to the Kansas Museum of History in 2002.
Entry: Cool Things - Women's Basketball Uniform
Author: Kansas Historical Society
Author information: The Kansas Historical Society is a state agency charged with actively safeguarding and sharing the state's history.
Date Created: June 2007
Date Modified: December 2014
The author of this article is solely responsible for its content.