The History of Women’s Football

By WPFL Historian, and Reign Coach – Mitchi Collette

  • Circa 1896 – “Football Game by Girls” The Sun, November 23, 1896, New York City

Les Jolts Jarcon, a pleasure club that annually given an entertainment or two at Sulzer’s Harlem River Park, gave a masked ball in the Casino of that park on Saturday night. The principal attraction was to be a football game between two teams of girls attired in the colors of Yale and Princeton. Ten girls, two of them dressed in sailor suits and the others in short dresses, lined up, five on each side. The colors of the two colleges were pin tied to them. Princeton won the ball, and a girl in a short black skirt and orange-colored stockings started the game by kicking the ball over into the crowd of on lookers that surrounded the gridiron. The others mad a rush and both teams tackled the front line of spectators. Then the ball was put in play again, and a Yale girl started with it toward Princeton’s goal. She hadn’t got far before the other nine girls tackled her and all fell into a heap. There was a wild scramble and the crowd of men looking on, excited by the struggle, closed in with a rush. The men behind pushed against those in front and it looked as if the girls would be crushed. Police Captain Haughey had been watching the game and keeping close to the players. With a number of policemen, he got in the way of the crowd and drove it back. He then ordered the game stopped, for fear that somebody would be injured by a repetition of the crush.

* Circa 1925 - Two Girl’s Football Teams Wage 6-6 Tie on The Coast –

 

New York Times, November 22, 1925

San Jose, Cal., Nov. 21(AP) Two girl’s football teams played to a 6 to 6 tie here yesterday. Each team made a touchdown, but on the try for point by place kick, neither was able to get the ball off the ground. The teams were drawn from the gymnasium classes of San Jose State Teacher’s College. Regulation football rules applied, although offside and holding were not penalized. One side scored on a forward pass that was carried over the goal line. The other team got into the backfield of the opposing team, one of its players grabbed the ball on the pass back from center, turned around and ran for a touchdown. The play was allowed by the referee.

  • Circa 1926 – NFL Teams such as the Frankford Yellow Jackets fielded women’s teams for the purpose of halftime entertainment.
  • Taken from the article “Girls Football” in the Toledo Blade, Sept. 5, 1978

In 1930 and 1931, there were two Toledo-based women’s tackle football teams that barnstormed though the Midwest playing exhibition games against each other. One team was coached by Herman Metzger and the other by Dick Lazette. These women’s football teams wore uniforms previously used by the Shank-Cobley little league football team.

According to the 1978 Toledo Blade article, “The first game was a financial success and the project went in the black”. However, there was quite a bit of resistance to the idea of women playing tackle football. One scheduled game at the University of Detroit was cancelled due to objections raised by university officials. Finally, the two Toledo women’s football teams were disbanded when First Lady Mrs. Herbert Hoover sent a scathing letter accusing Mr. Metzger and Mr. Lazette of exploiting womanhood. It would be until 1971 before another women’s tackle football team was attempted in Toledo.

  • Circa 1965 or 1966 – Cleveland talent agent Sid Friedman started a women’s semipro tackle football league as a “gimmick.” This league was originally called the Women’s Professional Football League.
  • 1970 – Patricia Barzi Palinkas became the first woman to ever play on a men’s semipro football team when she joined the Orlando Panthers.
  • 1971 – Sid Friedman’s original WPFL had grown to include teams in cities as Cleveland, Toledo, Toronto, Buffalo and Pittsburgh. Two other teams, the Detroit Fillies and Pittsburgh Powderkegs, were owned and operated independently of Friedman’s league.
  • 1974 – The National Women’s Football League was formed. This newly established league consisted of several teams from previous incarnations of women’s football. The original team lineup was as follows:

Dallas Bluebonnets, Fort Worth Shamrocks, Columbus Pacesetters, Toledo Troopers, Los Angeles Dandelions, California Mustangs and Detroit Demons.

* 1976 – The National Women’s Football League added several new teams and realigned into three divisions: Eastern, Southern and Western

  • By the mid 1970’s, the average NWFL franchise cost $10,000 to start up.
  • In August 1976, The Oklahoma City Dolls, a new team powered by rookie #45 Frankie Neal, handed the Toledo Troopers their first defeat: 14-8 in Oklahoma City. The two teams met each other in the official NWFL Championship game on December 11 th that year at the University of Toledo’s Glass Bowl. With snow on both sidelines and 19 degrees, Toledo initially claimed a 13-12 victory over Oklahoma.
  • Toledo’s record from 1971 through 1979 stood at 68 wins and 3 losses and is known for being the “Winningest team in all football history”(NFL Football Hall of Fame – Canton, Ohio, 1983). The Troopers reigned champions for seven years back to back and finished second twice in the nine years they existed.
  • In 1978, the California-based NWFL franchises broke away from the league to form the

Western States Women’s Professional Football League. This spin-off league, run by Los

Angles Dandelions owner Russell Molzahn, consisted of the following teams: L.A.

Dandelions, Hollywood Stars, Mesa (AZ) American Girls, Phoenix Cowgirls, Tucson Wild

Kittens, Long Beach Queens and Southland (CA) Cowgirls. This spin-off league was

formed largely because the NWFL decided to limit intersectional play due to travel costs.

 

The State of the National Women’s Football League as of 1981

  • The once mighty Toledo Troopers folded before the 1980 season due to financial problems.
  • The entire Southern Division of the NWFL had to disband in 1980 because the Lawton Tornadoes, who began play in 1978, were under-financed and the league did not want to play with just a two-team division. Lawton never again fielded and NWFL team after 1980.

 

The NWFL in the Mid-1980s

  • By 1983, the National Women’s Football League had undergone a period of severe contractions. For one thing, the NWFL had become a regional setup limited to the Midwest. In addition, the number of teams decreased from 12 plus in the mid-1970s to just 6: Columbus Pacesetters ( the last remaining original NWFL franchise from 1974), Cleveland Brewers, Grand Rapids Carpenters, Kalamazoo Rainbows, Lansing Unicorns and Toledo Furies.
  • By 1988, the NWFL had broken off into two separate organizations: the Toledo-based NWFL and the Women’s Tackle Football Association, based in Grand Rapids, MI and run by NWFL veteran Mary Lohrstorfer. From what I understand, the latter league wanted to play tackle football, while such remaining NWFL teams as the Cleveland Brewers and Columbus Pacesetters wanted out of the tackle football business.
  • Finally, after the 1989 season, the Cleveland Brewers decided to take up flag-touch football and persuaded the Columbus team to join them.

 

The 1999 WPFL “No Limits” Barnstorming Tour  

Working from feedback from female athletes from across the United States, the basic philosophies and logistics of establishing a national women’s pro tackle football league using NFL rules began to form. The idea was to put two teams together with top athletes and play one exhibition game in the HHH Metrodome to judge the athleticism of the players, the quality of the game and the marketability of that game to sports fans across America. Interest snowballed into the very successful “No Limits” Barnstorming Tour and now is a viable national league.

The Women’s Professional Football League is currently the longest running league in the nation with 19 teams with another burst of growth [coming] next season in 2006.