Softball originated in Chicago, with the first official women’s team being organized in 1895, approximately eight years after the game was created for men. The first women’s team was formed at Chicago’s West Division High School. The team did not acquire a coach until 1899 and there was little interest in the game from spectators. This attitude quickly changed in 1904 when Spalding’s Indoor Baseball Guide featured an entire section on women’s softball.
An Indoor Alternative
Softball originally offered an indoor alternative to baseball players who needed to stay in shape and continue practicing. The indoor game was preferable to playing outside during cold Chicago winters. In the spring, the game was shifted back outdoors. However, the playing fields were not large enough for professional baseball, which require a distance of 90 feet between bases. Eventually, softball, which requires only a distance of 60 feet between bases, came into its own.
Softball Becomes Accepted
The name “softball” came from a YMCA administrator in Denver, Colorado, in 1926. In 1933, the game became part of the Chicago World’s Fair as a tournament and garnered a great amount of attention and interest. More than 350,000 people were watching the game during that World’s Fair.
Women and Fast Pitching
In softball, a larger ball is used so it is easier to hit. Back in the early days of women’s softball, a slow pitch was encouraged because it was believed that a fast pitch might break a woman’s bones. This attitude about women’s fragility and sports faded over time, as women became more adept at fast pitching.
A Social Outlet
In a fast-pitch game, the ball is still thrown underhand, but the speed of the ball is greatly accelerated. A fast-pitch softball game is closer in style to regular baseball. Women’s fast-pitch leagues began spreading across the country and in 1965, and the first Women’s World Championship featured fast-pitch competitions. Today, slow-pitch games are less competitive and played mainly for social purposes.