While visiting my brother this summer, I saw a photograph of my namesake grandmother, Vera Stout Anderson, that I did not have. The photo reminded me that our ancestors were not always the stiff formal people in their “official” portraits. Vera was a woman athlete.
Grandma was definitely an “early adapter”. Internet articles I have found indicate that as early as the 1890’s women played on baseball teams in colleges and traveling teams known as the Bloomer League. But in a small town in Ohio, it surely would have been unusual to have women invading this male realm. And how shocking that these two women are brazenly wearing PANTS!
My mother dated this picture 1909, but I wonder if that is correct. Vera married in October 1904 and had children in September 1905, August 1906 and April 1908. In 1909 she was not only chasing three little kids, but she was a farm wife. Am I underestimating her when I wonder if she also was playing baseball in 1909?
Instead of playing the typical girly role of pianist or seamstress, Vera was a woman athlete. This rather prim, faded picture of her on her bike, shows that she liked action at a younger age.
This fascinating article explains the popularity of bicycles in the 1890s, and the development of the bike shown here, the “safety bike”, which made it easier for women to ride. The article also tells of the tie between bicycles and women’s emancipation, which I was not aware of.
As cycling’s popularity exploded, a new breed of woman was making her mark in the 1890s. “The New Woman” was the term used to describe the modern woman who broke with convention by working outside the home, or eschewed the traditional role of wife and mother, or became politically active in the woman’s suffrage movement or other social issues. The New Woman saw herself as the equal of men and the bicycle helped her assert herself as such.
Now that makes total sense. Hattie Stout, Vera’s mother, was dedicated to the concepts of women’s equality. My mother was to inherit both that dedication and the love of sports of her mother. While I didn’t inherit their passion for active sports, I did follow their lead in women’s rights. My sister was the one who took both activities to heart as a woman athlete and political activist.
My mother, Harriette Anderson Kaser, talked about Grandma Vera riding her bicycle down the center hall of the Stout’s big house and crashing into her mother’s china cabinet.
Mother also talked about the fact that Vera excelled at ice skating, and could not wait for the creek to freeze every winter, so she could swirl around on the ice, out skating everyone else in town–male and female.
I found verification for Vera’s love of ice skating when I discovered a letter she wrote to my mother about 1943. In that letter she says that ice has formed on the creek, and those young people better watch out. She just might grab her skates and show them how it is done. Still yearning to be the woman athlete.
By 1943, at 62, and Grandma’s hair had turned entirely white. Her hard work running a boarding house and then a restaurant, and in the 1940s doing factory work, had ruined her legs–swollen with varicose veins. By the time I was old enough to remember Grandma, her ice skating and baseball days were behind her, although she was an avid fan of the Killbuck high school teams and the Cleveland Indians. This is how I remember Vera Anderson–the picture taken in the summer of 1944, weeks before her husband died.
I’m glad that through photographs, I can also glimpse the athlete that she was in her youth.