Senda Berenson officiates at first collegiate women's basketball game
March 22, 1893
Senda Berenson, the "Mother of Women's Basketball," officiated at the first women's basketball game on March 22, 1893, at Smith College, in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Born in Lithuania and raised in Boston, Berenson was weak and delicate as a child. An athletic career would have seemed unlikely for the woman whose poor health rendered her unable to complete her training at the Boston Conservatory of Music. But in 1890, she entered the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics, in a bid to improve her strength and health. There, she trained in anatomy, physiology, and hygiene, and was hired by Smith College upon her graduation in 1892.
Berenson, the director of the physical education department at Smith, first heard about a new game called "Basket Ball" soon after her arrival in Northampton. Invented as a class exercise for boys, the game—like most team sports—was considered too strenuous for girls, who were instead encouraged to participate in individual sports like swimming, archery, and horseback riding. Berenson observed the game being played in nearby Springfield, and met its inventor, Dr. James Naismith, who encouraged her to adopt the game as exercise for her female students.
At the first basketball game on March 22, 1893 (some sources cite March 21), Smith freshmen were pitted against Smith sophomores, with no male spectators allowed. With rules intended to avoid the roughness of the men's game, the new game became a hit, and soon swept the country. By 1895, there were hundreds of women's basketball teams, and these teams helped open the door to other team sports programs for women. Berenson wrote the first official rulebook for women's college basketball, as well as a number of articles on the new sport. She continued to edit the rules until the 1916-17 season, and many of the rules she developed remained standard until the 1980s. Berenson died in 1954. Over 30 years later, in 1985, she was the first woman to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, MA.
Senda Berenson's brother was the noted art critic Bernhard Berenson.
To learn more about Senda Berenson, visit Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia.
See also: Sports in the United States.
Sources:www.hoophall.com/halloffamers/bhof-senda-berneson.html; Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, pp. 137-139; Joan Hult and Marianna Trekell, eds., A Century of Women's Basketball: From Frailty to Final Four (Reston, VA, 1991); Guide to Senda Berenson Papers, Sophia Smith Collection (clio.fivecolleges.edu/smith/berenson/).