Women’s basketball history: 1892 in Breckenridge photos shows female team one year after invention

One year after James Naismith invented the game of basketball, women in Colorado were playing the sport while wearing floor-length black dresses, corsets and boots.

A black-and-white photo labeled “Breckenridge Basket Ball Association Circa: 1892″ and found by a Denver resident Justin Picard in an ARC thrift store shows 11 women posing in front of a basketball with BBBA painted on the front. A lone man stands with them. None of the people in the photograph are identified and there is no photographer’s credit on it.

But two articles from Summit County newspapers verified that a women’s team indeed existed at that time.

The team played its first game on Feb. 20, 1902, according to an article in the Feb. 22, 1902 edition of the Summit County Journal. The article states the town’s women had formed a basketball team that played its first game on a Thursday evening at the Fireman’s Hall. And it lists the players (married women used their husbands’ names): Mrs. R.W. Foote, Mrs. R.C. McKillip, Mrs. Alex Matthiesson, Misses Agnes and Tonnie Finding, Hannah Bortleson, Alice DeBarneure, Florence Detwiler, Effie Lawrence and Bessie Whitehead.

Colorado became a state just 16 years earlier. Women would not earn the right to vote for another 28 years. The ski industry would not arrive in Breckenridge for another 61 years.

At the time, Breckenridge was a mining town where people came to dig for gold, silver and hard rock. It did not have a high school or college so it’s likely these women were the daughters and wives of miners and merchants who wanted to play the sport, said Kris Ann Knish, archivist and museum collections manager for the Breckenridge Heritage Alliance.

The Finding sisters came from a prominent Silverthorn family who were among the first settlers in the county during the first wave of a gold rush.

In the historic photograph, the women are wearing black dresses with their hair pinned up. Each woman is wearing a large black or white bow with her dress and that bow likely signified which team the woman played on, Knish said.

An April 5, 1902 article in the Breckenridge Bulletin said the teams were known as the “Whites” and the “Blacks,” which led Knish and other researchers to determine the bow colors indicated the team.

That day, townspeople packed the Fireman’s hall for what the newspaper called the first public game. The building wasn’t big enough to accommodate everyone who wanted to watch. Detwiler was captain for the White team and Agnes Finding served as captain for the Black team.

“The game was hotly contested, the ‘Blacks’ winning by superior teamwork, and the ‘Whites’ being handicapped by a couple of players with disabled hands,” the Breckenridge Bulletin reported.

Final score: 58-34.

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