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History of Women's Basketball in America

A Timeline of Women's Basketball History 1891 to Present

By

Girls High School Basketball 1909

Girls Basketball Team, Milton High School, Milton, North Dakota, 1909

Photographer likely John McCarthy. Courtesy Library of Congress.

Women's basketball began the year after the game was invented. The history of women's basketball success is a long one: collegiate and professional teams, intercollegiate competitions (and their critics) as well as the sad history of many failed attempts at professional leagues; women's basketball at the Olympics. It's all here in this timeline. See also: Top Women in Basketball History

1891

  • James Naismith invented basket ball [sic] at a Massachusetts YMCA school
1892
  • first women's basketball team organized by Senda Berenson at Smith College, adapting Naismith's rules to emphasize cooperation, with three zones and six players on each team
1893
  • first women's college basketball game played at Smith College; no men were admitted to the game (March 21)
  • women's basketball began at Iowa State College, Carleton College, Mount Holyoke College, and Sophie Newcomb College (Tulane) in New Orleans; each year more schools added women's basketball to their sports offerings for girls
1894
  • Senda Berenson published article on women's basketball and its benefits in the Physical Education journal
1895 1896
  • Bloomers introduced as a playing costume at Sophie Newbomb College, New Orleans
  • Stanford and the University of California at Berkeley played the first women's intercollegiate game; Stanford won, 2-1, and men were excluded, with women guarding the windows and doors to exclude men
  • first known women's basketball game between two high schools was played in the Chicago area, with Chicago Austin High School against Oak Park High School
1899
  • Conference of Physical Training established a committee to form uniform rules for women's basket ball [sic]
  • Stanford banned women's basketball from intercollegiate competition, as did the University of California
1901
  • University of California at Berkeley was given an outdoor basketball court for women by philanthropist Phoebe Hearst
  • Spalding issued women's basketball rules, edited by Senda Berenson, establishing 3 zones with 5-10 players per team; some teams used men's rules, some used Baer's rules, and some used Spalding's/Berenson's rules
1904
  • A Native American team played women's basketball at the St. Louis World's Fair, as an exhibition
1908
  • AAU (Amateur Athletic Union) took the position that women or girls should not play basketball in public
1914
  • the American Olympic Committee declared its opposition to the participation of women in the Olympics competition
1920s
  • industrial leagues -- teams sponsored by companies for their workers -- were established in many parts of the country
1921
  • Jeux Olympiques Féminines held in Monaco, an all-women's sports competition for sports excluded from the Olympics; sports included basketball, track and field; Britain's team won the basketball event
1922
  • Jeux Olympiques Féminines held, an all-women's sports competition for sports excluded from the Olympics; sports included basketball, track and field
1923
  • Jeux Olympiques Féminines held, an all-women's sports competition for sports excluded from the Olympics; sports included basketball, track and field
  • Women's Division of the National Amateur Athletic Federation (WDNAAF) held its first conference; over the next few years, it will take on women's extramural basketball and other sports as too competitive, working to get high schools, industrial leagues, and even churches to ban tournaments
1924
  • Olympics included women's basketball -- as an exhibition event
  • International Women's Sports Federation founded, hosted a women's event paralleling the Olympics, including basketball
1926
  • AAU held first national tournament for women's basketball, with six teams participating
1927
  • AAU National Women's Basketball Tournament cancelled under pressure from the WDNAAF; Sunoco Oilers (Dallas) declared AAU national champions
1928
  • Olympics included women's basketball -- as an exhibition event
  • AAU National Women's Basketball Tournament cancelled for the second year under pressure from the WDNAAF; Sunoco Oilers (Dallas) declared AAU national champions (again)
1929
  • AAU selected the first AAU All-America team
  • AAU re-started national championship tournament; Sunoco Oilers won, defeating the Golden Cyclones; a beauty contest was part of the event
1930
  • AAU national chapionship included 28 teams; Sunoco Oilers won, defeating the Golden Cyclones
1930s
  • Isadore Channels (of the Chicago Romas team) and Ora Mae Washington (of the Philadelphia Tribunes) were stars in two rival black women's basketball barnstorming teams; both women were also American Tennis Association title winners
  • WDNAAF continued to pressure states to ban women's basketball tournaments, with success in many states
1931 1938
  • three zones reduced to two in women's competition
1940s
  • during World War II, competition and recreation basketball was common; relocation canters for Japanese Americans, for instance, included regularly scheduled women's basketball games
1953
  • international competition in women's basketball was reorganized
1955
  • first Pan-American Games included women's basketball; USA won the gold medal
1969
  • Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (ICAW) held an invitational basketball tournament, the first national tournament not including AAU teams; West Chester State won the championship
  • women's basketball was included in the Paralympics

1970

  • five player full court game adopted for women's basketball
1972
  • Title IX enacted, requiring federally-funded schools to fund women's sports equitably, including teams, scholarships, recruitment, and media coverage
  • Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women (AIAW) held first national intercollegiate championship in basketball; Immaculata defeated West Chester
  • AAU established national basketball tournaments for girls younger than college age
1973
  • college scholarships offered to female athletes for the first time
  • Amateur Basketball Association of the United States (ABAUSA) established, replacing AAU
1974
  • US Olympic Committee recognized the ABAUSA
  • Billie Jean King founded the Women's Sports Foundation, to promote sports and physical activity among girls
1976
  • women's basketball became an Olympic sport; the Soviet team won the gold, USA won the silver
1978
  • Wade Trophy established to honor a top collegiate player; first awarded to Carol Blazejowski
  • Bill Byrne founded the 8-team Women's Basketball League (WBL)
1979
  • WBL expanded to 14 teams
1980
  • Ladies Professional Basketball Association founded with six teams; played for less than a month before failing
  • first USA Basketball Female Athlete of the Year Award went to Carol Blazejowski
  • Olympics held but many nations boycotted, led by the USA
1981
  • WBL played its last season
  • Women's Basketball Coaches Association (WBCA) begins
  • NCAA announced women's basketball tournaments; AIAW filed an antitrust suit in opposition
  • final AIAW tournament held; AIAW dropped the lawsuit against the NCAA and disbanded
  • first NCAA women's basketball Final Four championship held
1984
  • Olympics women's basketball event won by USA team, with the USSR and some other nations boycotting
  • Women's American Basketball Association (WABA) formed, with six teams; it was, like most of the women's professional basketball leagues, short-lived
  • Lynette Woodard began playing with the Harlem Globetrotters, the first woman to play with that team
1985
  • Senda Berenson Abbott, L. Margaret Wade, and Bertha F. Teague were inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, the first women to be so honored
1986
  • National Women's Basketball Association (NWBA) founded; folded the same season
1987
  • Naismith Hall of Fame initiated Female High School Player of the Year award
1988
  • Olympics women's basketball event won by USA team
1990
  • Pat Summit was the first woman to be awarded the John Bunn Award by the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
1991
  • WBL disbanded
  • Liberty Basketball Association (LBA) founded, and lasted one game, broadcast on ESPN
1992
  • Howard University women's basketball coach became the first woman to win monetary damages under Title IX, for discrimination
  • Nera White, who played with the Nashville Business College team, and Lusia (Lucy) Harris (Harris-Stewart) were inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
1993
  • Women's Basketball Association (WBA) founded
  • Ann Meyers and Ulyana Semjonova inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
1994
  • Carol Blazejowski inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
1995
  • Women's Basketball Association (WBA) failed
  • American Basketball League (ABL) founded with ten teams
  • players Anne Donovan and Cheryl Miller inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
1996
  • NBA established the WNBA with eight teams; Sheryl Swoopes was the first player signed by the WNBA
  • Nancy Lieberman inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
1997
  • first WNBA game played
  • WNBA added two more teams
  • players Joan Crawford and Denise Curry inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
1998
  • ABL failed
  • WNBA expanded by two teams
1999
  • Women's Basketball Hall of Fame opened with 25 inductees
  • WNBA expanded by four teams for the 2000 season
2000
  • Olympics held in Sydney, Australia; USA team won gold medal; Teresa Edwards became the first basketball player to pay on five consecutive Olympic teams and win five Olympic medals
  • National Women's Basketball Professional League (NWBL) founded
  • Pat Head Summitt (coach) inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
2002
  • Sandra Kay Yow (coach) inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
  • Ashley McElhiney became the first woman head coach for a men's professional basketball team (ABA, Nashville Rhythm); she resigned in 2005 with a 21-10 record
2004
  • Lynette Woodard inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
2005
  • Hortencia Marcari and Sue Gunter (LSU coach) inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
2006
  • WNBA celebrated its 10th year by announcing an All-Decade Team, selected by fans, media, and current players and coaches.
2008
  • Cathy Rush inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame
  • signing a 7-day WNBA contract, Nancy Lieberman returned to play in a single game
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