Sports in the Progressive Era
Over 20,000 images in this collection are of sports and sporting events, reflecting the increased organization and popularity of sports during the Progressive Era. No sport was as popular as baseball, which had won the title of national pastime by 1911, when old-time baseball player and administrator, Albert Spalding, wrote:
"I claim that Base Ball owes its prestige as our National Game to the fact that as no other form of sport it is the exponent of American Courage, Confidence, Combativeness; American Dash, Discipline, Determination; American Energy, Eagerness, Enthusiasm; American Pluck, Persistency, Performance; American Spirit, Sagacity, Success; American Vim, Vigor, Virility.
Base Ball is the American Game par excellence because its playing demands Brain and Brawn, and American manhood supplies these ingredients in quantity sufficient to spread over the entire continent."
From America's National Game, by Albert Spalding, 1911.
Search on baseball for images of players and ball fields, including Chicago's famous Comiskey Park, home of the White Sox, and Wrigley Field, home of the Chicago Cubs. Players caught in black and white include such greats as Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
Although football was becoming a popular sport in the first decade of the twentieth century, there were so few teams that university squads often played against high school teams. Refer to the Special Presentation of Topics to Explore to learn more about the history of football. Search on football for photographs of over 2,000 players.
Basketball was invented in 1891 as a way to Christianize young men. Search on basketball to see how the fledgling game developed over the next few decades. There are a number of pictures of other sports, including track and field, swimming, boxing, wrestling, gymnastics, Lacrosse, polo, and rowing. Search by sport.
- Why might sports have become more organized during the Progressive Era?
- Why might they have become more popular at this time?
- How do you think that sports impacted America's cult of celebrity?
- How did the cult of celebrity impact sports?
- Why do you think that basketball was used to shape the character of young men?
A group photograph of the 1911 Negro National League's Chicago American Giants reveals the practice of segregation in sports during the Progressive Era. However, photographs documenting the existence of inter-racial teams as early as 1903 reflect the growing change that made way for Jackie Robinson's acceptance into the major league in 1947. Use the Subject Index headings beginning with African American to view numerous pictures of other African-American athletes.
While African Americans were considered unsuitable for playing sports with caucasians, women were considered unsuitable for playing any sports at all — it was thought that they breathed differently from men. Aside from any physical limitation, women were discouraged from playing sports as late as the 1920s, due to the fear that competition would make them less feminine.
At the same time, however, efforts to promote health through physical education led to women participating in more sports, beginning with non-competitive activities such as synchronized swimming, but eventually including tennis, baseball, basketball, and even football. Use the Subject Index headings beginning with Women, such as Women athletes and Women basketball players, to view photographs that reflect the growing presence and achievement of women in sports.
- How do photographs of female athletes compare to photographs of male athletes? What might account for any differences?
- What was the relationship between sports and social equality during the Progressive Era?