Black Quotidian: Everyday History in African-American Newspapers

March 31, 1934

On March 31, 1934, the Norfolk Journal and Guide reported that the national champion Philadelphia Tribune Girls basketball team was on a tour through the South. A game in Greensboro against Bennett College, the 1934 undefeated college champions, drew over 1,200 fans (the Tribune Girls won, 31–22). As the name would suggest, the Tribune girls were sponsored by Philadelphia’s leading African-American newspaper.

The Black Fives Foundation, an amazing organization that researches and teaches about the history of black basketball, describes the formation of the Philadelphia Tribune Girls basketball team

There are few teams in any sport, any place, that dominated so completely and for so long. The Tribune Girls won eleven straight Women’s Colored Basketball World’s Championships. The Tribune Girls were formed in 1930 with players from the Philadelphia Quick Steppers and the Germantown Hornets, two exceptional local all-black female basketball teams. The Quick Steppers featured Inez Patterson, a phenomenal sports star who also managed and coached the team...
Patterson, a record-setting Temple University athlete who was an All-Collegiate selection in many sports including basketball, was the Quick Steppers’ most talented player. A West Philadelphia native and the team’s captain, Patterson had led the Quick Steppers to a 15-1 record and the Eastern Colored Women’s Basketball Championship title during the previous season, in 1929.
More than a great athlete, Patterson, who also managed the team, was far ahead of her time as a black female sports promoter and entrepreneur. In 1930 she approached the powerful Philadelphia Tribune, a leading Negro newspaper, to propose a team sponsorship arrangement between the paper and the Quick Steppers. Patterson went to Otto Briggs, the newspaper’s circulation manager. He was also a part owner of the publication, and the husband of the president of the paper. The Tribune newspaper sponsored and promoted her basketball team, bringing free advertising, exposure, and financial stability to her club during a time of great uncertainty at the start of the Great Depression.

Patterson was joined on the team by another great athlete, Ora Washington. In addition to being one of the best basketball players of her era, Washington won the American Tennis Association’s national singles title eight times in the 1930s.

With a vested interest in the team, the Philadelphia Tribune covered the squad and women’s basketball extensively in this decade. Some of my favorite items I found are pictures highlighting individual players: “Speedy” Sis Lowery, “Clever” Marie Leach, Rose Wilson, and Myrtle Wilson. The team was absolutely dominant, losing only four games from 1932 to 1936.

The quality of play was high enough that Tribune sports editor Randy Dixon had a difficult time selecting the top ten players from among the women’s teams in Philadelphia. “It might be expedient to inject a word or so about the tremendous strides made in girls’ basketball in this area. The femme casaba artists have leaped forward with leaps and bounds. While two seasons back a girls’ game was considered more in the light of a feeble attempt by the weaker sex at playing a man’s game, it is now, in several instances quite different. With the general advancement in interest, the improvement in individuals and team play has kept pace. As a natural consequence several outstanding girls have been developed” (click to view PDF).  

Dixon described Ora Washington as “the greatest girl player of the age. Though lacking the perfection of smoothness that goes with the finished product, Ora can do everything required of a basketball player. She passes and shoots with either hand. She is a ball hawk.She has stamina and speed that make many male players blush with envy. And despite comparatively elaborate defenses; especially mapped out to stop her she has averaged 16 points per game with a high total of 38 points in one game. Ora without hesitation is honored as the outstanding girl player of the year and with it the captaincy of the first team.”

For more on the history of women’s basketball, see Pamela Grundy and Susan Shackelford’s Shattering the Glass: The Remarkable History of Women’s Basketball.

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