Late to the Game: Getting the Ball Rolling


I was leafing through a book called The University of Texas Trivia Book, written by delightful centenarian and UT historian Margaret Berry, BA ’37, Life Member, Distinguished Alumna, when a nugget of sports trivia caught my eye. The question was, “Against what team, and when, was the women’s first intercollegiate game of basketball played?”

Without looking, I guessed—and whispered this aloud, mind you, as if I was in a conversation with Berry—”I dunno, 1975? Texas A&M?”

Double buzzers. Wrong and wrong. The correct answer, according to this book, is 1904 and Baylor. Fitting, of course, the team that’s beaten Texas 14 straight times—and in the finals of the last two Big 12 Championships—has the longest-standing rivalry with the Longhorns. Not fitting, at least to my feeble mind, was that I had somehow missed seven decades of women’s basketball history.

So I hastily put down the print media in my hands and got online. According to, the women’s basketball team starting playing games in 1974, a mere 70-year discrepancy between Berry and official athletics department records. Actual photo of me at this moment:


It turns out that 1974 is the first year, post Title IX, that Texas fielded a varsity women’s basketball team, and thus, the first year for which Texas Athletics keeps official records. Fair enough, but what about the rest? Who got the ball rolling?

With Texas women’s basketball enjoying its best season in more than a decade, I figured I’d delve deep into the archives to find out about the early history of the program. Where the Internet failed me, another real-life, dead-tree book actually filled in the gaps. OK, well, I cheated and tried to read a section of Richard Pennington’s Longhorn Hoops via Google Books, but the preview omitted a couple pages I needed. So I shrugged my way across campus to the Perry Castañeda Library. An actual library! A colleague even called the notion “quaint.” She was not wrong.

I haven’t checked a book out of the library since AOL was invented, and I wasn’t about to in 2016, so I found my intended target among the vast stacks on the fourth floor of the PCL and figured I’d scan the 10 or so pages I needed for my research. Well, I’m not a student and don’t have a fancy card that enables me to use the copier and scanner, so I did what I do best: I took a picture of each page with my iPhone and emailed them to myself.

Women’s basketball came to Texas in 1900, when director of women’s physical education Eleanore Norvell organized an intramural matchup between teams named Ideson and Whitis on Jan. 13. The game, held in the basement of the old Main Building, was a 40-minutes long and won by a score of 3-2. That’s a basket every eight minutes for those scoring at home. While it may sound like both the Ideson (Norvell’s team) and Whitis teams were replete with lockdown defenders, the game was actually much different at the turn of the century. As Pennington’s book notes, for the first 70 years of women’s basketball, beginning in 1892:

“[T]he court was divided into three sections with two players per team in each; a player could hold the ball no more than three seconds; dribbling was limited to three bounces; and close guarding was prohibited.”

Sounds riveting, no? No wonder the initial Texas basketball game score looked more like an Augie Garrido-era baseball score. The reasons for these draconian rules were due mainly to the antiquated and, honestly, super annoying notion that women were like delicate Victorian dolls, and that overexertion was “unladylike.” Case-in-point: According to Pennington, women wore “modest minnie blouses and serge bloomers” during games, and men weren’t allowed to watch. He notes that “a few stood outside and cheered through the windows” when an all-star team coached by Norvell played a visiting team called the “Town Girls.” Tickets cost 10 cents, and this time, varsity won 7-4. The high-scoring, big-money era of Texas women’s basketball had begun.

Just kidding. For the next few years, varsity played a bunch of high schools from Austin, San Antonio, Galveston, and beyond. In 1906—here’s where the reporting gets murky—Pennington writes that the first intercollegiate game was played. H. Sophie Newcomb Memorial College, the women’s college at Tulane at the time, was the opponent, though the results are lost to history. So where does the 1904 Baylor game come in? As Pennington notes, in the years that followed, schools like Southwest and Baylor visited, but only rarely, never noting a date on the Baylor game.

I checked the Cactus—online, of course, even though a copy from every year lives inside the building in which I work—from 1903-05, and could only find a team picture for each year. The 1903 team picture is great. Known then as the “Basket-Ball Team,” the players are divided by position: goals, defense, center, and side centers. Some of these players have fantastic turn-of-the-century names, too: Minnie Cade, Laverte Chamberlin, Winifred Kingsley, Epsie Walden, and Eunice Aden are among my favorites. By 1904, the positions are amended to center, right forward, left forward, right defense, and left defense. Aden took over as manager for the 1904 “Basket Ball Team,” now with hyphen removed.

Pennington notes that Aden took over as head of women’s P.E. in 1911, and for the next 11 years, she oversaw the building of an outdoor basketball court (with a tall fence so men couldn’t see in) and eventually N Hall, “a large, frame building that would serve as the women’s gymnasium for the next 15 years.” Pennington says that during this time, “The most significant thing a female athlete at the University of Texas could do then was to make the varsity basketball team and earn a letter.” Still, the Daily Texan and Cactus both occasionally seethed at the fact that the women’s games weren’t publicized and that men couldn’t watch, which Pennington says gave them “an air of mystery” to the other sex. Forsooth, it appears the fairer sex can—gasp—exercise and have fun whilst doing so! 

Aden felt protective of basketball, not allowing the team to travel off campus for games or form a full-fledged team. In 1921, Aden left UT to run a girl’s summer camp in San Antonio, and was replaced by Anna Hiss, who would run women’s P.E. until 1957. Before Aden left, she destroyed all her records, so, according to Pennington, “the next director could begin with a clean slate.” Well, that answers the question as to why we know so little about the proto-history of women’s basketball. Pennington notes that Hiss was vehemently against women’s intercollegiate athletics, but that’s another story for another day.

For now, the mystery of the first women’s intercollegiate basketball game will have to remain unsolved. Berry says it’s 1904, against Baylor; Pennington claims Sophie Newcomb in 1906. I have reached out to women’s athletics, and they don’t have records of this early period of the basketball team. It seems that Aden has mostly achieved what she had hoped in destroying her records: Making life more difficult for me!

Photo illustration by Melissa Reese


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