By Leslie Heaphy
Having any discussion that involves female owners in the Negro Leagues has to begin with a discussion of Effa Manley, the only woman elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame (2006). But what many people do not realize is the women that came before and after Effa. From Olivia Taylor to Minnie Forbes women owned baseball teams from the teens through the 1950s. They are a formidable group of ladies who deserve to be recognized for their contributions to the game of baseball, for breaking down barriers and answering the challenges of being a woman in a manly sport.
As owner of the Newark Eagles Effa Manley helped guide her ball club to victory in the Negro League World Series in 1946. The Eagles beat the well-known Kansas City Monarchs to earn their first and only World Series crown. Manley loved baseball from an early age and found a kindred spirit in her husband Abe. When she met Abe he already owned the Brooklyn Eagles and together they guided the rise of the team. As an owner Effa used her position to give back to her community and country. She pushed for a variety of civil rights gains, hosting Anti-Lynching days at the ball park. She was personally involved in picketing and boycotts of businesses that did not employee African Americans. Known as the “Don’t Buy where you can’t work campaign,” Manley joined the picket lines in the 1930s.
In addition to serving as owner of the Eagles, Manley also served the League as the unofficial secretary. Her name appeared on all kinds of documents rather than her husband Abe. She was known for her promotional skills and her efforts to help her players. Effa helped her players out when they needed financial help, helped them get work during the off-season and insured that each player had new uniforms to best represent the team when they were at home or on the road. When integration came to baseball Mrs. Manley pushed and pushed to make sure she and the other owners got paid for their players by Major League owners. She forced the ML teams to recognize the legitimacy of the Negro Leagues. After the 1948 season Manley sold her ball club and stepped away from the game but not before she had left a huge impact on her players, the sport and her community.
Before Effa there were a number of ladies who held the helm of a Negro League team. Most discussions begin with Olivia Taylor, wife of the famous C. I Taylor with the Indianapolis ABCs. Born in 1884, Olivia Harris married C. I. around 1910. C. I. guided the ABCs to prominence in the 1910s and worked with Rube Foster to develop the first Negro National League (NNL). Unfortunately, Taylor died in 1922 leaving Olivia to take over the team at a time when men dominated all businesses. Olivia ran into immediate trouble with her brother-in-law Ben who thought she had no business running the team. She owned the ABCs for three seasons and was constantly challenged at every turn. She met each and every accusation and kept her team afloat. Olivia attended league meetings and tried to answer claims she had ruined the ball club. Other owners raided her ball club and the weather conspired against the club, forcing numerous cancellations. Financial difficulties led to the league kicking out the ABCs in 1925 but Taylor managed to hang on as an associate member. Taylor faced challenges from day one but stayed at the helm for three years, opening the door for others to follow her.
In 1935 local papers on the East Coast listed Clara Jones as the President of the Boston ABCs. The owner was Clem Mack and together they brought quality baseball to Boston. The ABCs played major Negro League teams who passed through the region as well as local white and black competition. By all accounts Jones ran a well-organized and talented ball club. Unfortunately, little else is known about Jones and her off the field accomplishments.
As the 1940s came to a close Henryene Green took over the running of the Baltimore Elites after the death of her husband Vernon in early 1949. With the support of manager Lennie Pearson and Green the Elites won the 1949 Negro American League pennant. Green stayed at the helm through the 1950 season before selling the club to William Bridgeworth. The Elites kept playing for one more season before they folded.
In the early 1950s Hilda Bolden-Shorter took over running the Philadelphia Stars from her father Ed Bolden. She ran the operations from 1950-52 before Eddie Gottlieb bought out her interest in the Stars. With Oscar Charleston running the on-field activities Shorter handled contracts, bookings and other negotiations. In addition to her involvement in baseball Shorter worked her way through Meharry Medical school to become a pediatrician. In 1946 she was part of a medical mission to Liberia. While there she demonstrated her other love, piano. She put on a benefit concert to raise money for a local school. This incredibly talented lady left her mark in so many fields, including baseball.
The last female owner in the league was Mrs. Minnie Forbes who owned the Detroit Stars from 1956-58. She bought the team from her uncle Ted Rasberry who also owned the Kansas City club. League rules prevented him owning two teams so Forbes bought out his interest. She sold the ball club after the 1958 season as it became apparent the Negro Leagues were fading away. Forbes also joined the ranks of female players when she played third base for the Monarchs in 1958. Forbes was honored for her contributions to the game when President Obama invited a number of Negro League veterans to the White House in 2013.
This list of ladies is a continually growing list as researchers discover more about the Negro Leagues and those who were involved. Women played a huge role on and off the field and deserve recognition for their contributions and the barriers they broke, paving the way for the women of today. For example, the St. Louis Black Bronchos and a local Springfield black team had female leadership. How many other women are out there that we know nothing about?
Dr. Leslie Heaphy is an Associate Professor in the Department of History at Kent State University. An admitted New York Mets fan, Dr. Heaphy has published several works on women in baseball and on the Negro leagues. She has also been the editor of the journal Black Ball since 2008 and is highly active in the Society for American Baseball Research.