Women Were Playing Football in the 1930s — Then Came the Backlash
“A fortnight ago in Los Angeles, those romantics who still believe in nursery rhymes and the dignity of womanhood got a rude shock,” LIFE Magazine brayed in a November 1939 issue. The shock in question came from a new Southern Californian league of what papers around the country had taken to calling “girl gridders”: women playing tackle football, apparently without sugar, spice and everything nice. In the case of the Stars, the Amazons and the Rinky Dinks (really), they were playing in front of thousands.
Take halfback Shirley Payne of the Stars, who had made her name outrunning Mickey Rooney (yes, that Mickey Rooney) during a 1938 halftime exhibition game against his team, the MGM Wildcats; that co-ed matchup was billed as groundbreaking. Or the Amazons’ Lois Roberts, who punted 50 yards barefoot.
“Strangely enough, they played good football,” wrote a man (probably) in the same spread, still concluding that “it would be better for girls to stick to swimming, tennis and softball.”