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January 15, 2004

Smith College Athletes to Revisit Basketball's Origins in
Re-Enactment of the First Collegiate Women's Game

Editor's note: For a high-res digital photo of early basketball games at Smith, contact Marti Hobbes at or (413) 585-2190.

NORTHAMPTON, Mass. -- In the 111 years since the first game of collegiate basketball ever played by women took place at Smith College, the game has undergone a few important changes.

For one, players have since traded in their bloomers and long-sleeved blouses for athletic uniforms better suited to the exertion of today's games. Women are allowed to steal the ball from their opponents these days, a practice ruled illegal in 1893 because it was unladylike. And men, who were not allowed to view those early players in their risqué game attire, are encouraged to attend today's games as spectators.

But on Sunday, Feb. 1, all that basketball progress will be temporarily rescinded when students at Smith College re-enact the first official women's basketball game at 12:15 p.m. in Ainsworth Gymnasium. This time, men and women alike will be encouraged to attend. The event is free and open to the public.

The re-enactment will feature the bloomered uniforms, staid rules and a replay of the events of the first official women's basketball game, which took place on March 22, 1893, in what is now known as the Alumnae Gymnasium. Smith intercollegiate athletes, including nine members of the basketball team, will play the parts of their predecessors. A hip-hop dance team will also perform.

The event is part of a year-long celebration of Northampton's 350th anniversary in conjunction with National Girls and Women in Sports Day and is the kickoff event for Fitness February, a month-long series of college events leading up to the official opening on Feb. 20 of Smith's Olin Fitness Center, a 4,800-square-foot facility next to Ainsworth Gym. Construction of the $4-million fitness center was made possible by a gift from the Spencer T. and Ann W. Olin Foundation in honor of Barbara Olin Taylor, a 1954 Smith graduate, and Judy Olin Higgins, a 1958 Smith graduate.

Basketball was introduced to Smith women in 1892 by Senda Berenson, a physical education teacher at the college, who, only a year after Dr. James Naismith invented the game, adapted the rules for a women's game.

The first women's basketball game -- a decidedly less frenetic affair in comparison to today's college games -- took place between the Smith classes of 1895 and 1896. The rules allowed one bounce of the ball before passing and required players to remain in one of three assigned zones to minimize excessive running. Despite those limitations, one player in that game managed to dislocate her shoulder. The freshman class edged their sophomore competitors 5 to 4.

Smith women will re-enact that event -- down to the shoulder injury and exact score -- using a script written from materials in the College Archives and uniforms made for a similar re-enactment in 1993.

Smith College is consistently ranked among the nation's foremost liberal arts colleges. Enrolling 2,800 students from every state and 60 other countries, Smith is the largest undergraduate women's college in the country.


Office of College Relations
Smith College
Garrison Hall
Northampton, Massachusetts 01063

Marti Hobbes
News Assistant
T (413) 585-2190
F (413) 585-2174

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