The ways in which baseball was used to break social barriers in Iowa can be shown in three specific cases. These include the “female” team of the Bloomers which was based out of Des Moines, the All Nations team, also based out of Des Moines, and finally through the baseball player Bud Fowler. All three of these early Iowa baseball staples unknowingly worked to help break down the social barriers of their time.
The Bloomer Girls
The Bloomer Girls team of Iowa was a novelty team started in 1909 by J.L. Wilkinson and continued to tour until 1916. The Hopkins Brothers Bloomer Girls of Des Moines was owned by The Hopkins Brothers sporting goods store. They were considered a somewhat gimmick-laden outfit. This team was developed, like others, in an effort to draw up to 2,000 fans to a covered grandstand.
The Pullman Palace railroad car was used by the Hopkins Brothers Bloomer Girls of Des Moines to travel around the U.S. Not only did the railroad carry the players, but they also brought along their brown bulldog mascot, a portable ballpark, consisting of a canvas fence 14 feet high and 1200 feet long, a canopy-covered grandstand, and their own lighting system for night games.
Inspired by Amelia Bloomer’s fitting trousers, that made it easier for ladies to indulge in sports, women nationwide were banding together to form Bloomer Girls barnstorming ball clubs.
The Bloomer Girls of Des Moines were made up of the best female players, including a superstar from the Boston Bloomer Girls, Mae Arbaugh. She went under the name Carrie Nation in an effort to attract fans and the Hopkins Bloomer girls promoted the skills of her as their first baseman.
The All Nations team was developed from the Hopkins Brothers Sporting Goods team (pictured above) which was based out of Des Moines. The All Nations were an attraction everywhere they played because of their diverse ethnic backgrounds. A June 12, 1912 Duluth News Tribune hailed some of the players as:
“A Chinaman whose physique tallies closely with the size of a Spalding bat; an Indian who acquired his “stick talent” by swinging a tomahawk in the Custer Massacre; a Turk who doesn’t smoke cigarettes, a Mexican revolutionist, a Cuban insurgent, a smoke hurler who averages 15 “S.O.’s” per game, a straw hat cleaner from Greece; a Japanese, an American.”
The All Nations team had baseball at the center of their act, but there was also sideshows, a marching band, a wrestler who challenged locals to a bout, and a community dance with music courtesy of the team troupe.
While based out of Iowa the All Nations made an impact wherever they traveled. The All Nations toured the country all the way to the west coast and back to Iowa. In 1913, the team won 119 games and lost 17, but after the 1915 season the team moved from Des Moines to Kansas City. The team showed how diverse the talent in baseball really was, and that players could come from many different nationalities.
The Westerns of Keokuk, commonly known as the Keokuk Westerns represented Keokuk, Iowa in baseball. The Westerns were a very short-lived franchise in the National Association (NA) but because there were very few requirements to becoming a team in the NA, Keokuk, Iowa managed to field a major league team, albeit for only part of the 1875 season. The team played their eight home games at Perry Park, which its outfield had two lakes in which the fielders had to contend. Although the team itself is of little importance historically because it failed to finish its only season with a record of 1-12, the town was home to a historic event in baseball history.
In 1885, 62 years before Jackie Robinson, Bud Fowler (pictured center) became the first African-American to play professional baseball while playing for the Keokuk Westerns. In a time where African-Americans were not widely seen in professional baseball Bud Fowler broke the way for future players.
A Closer Look Into The Keokuk Westerns
The video above explores the history of the Keokuk Westerns and includes information on Bud Fowler and other notable players from the team’s past.