As some of you may know, this here month of March is designated as Women's History Month in the United States (it apparently happens in October in Canada?). Seeing as how my unnecessarily fancy degree is actually in gender history, I thought it might be appropriate to spend a little time in this week's OTBH exploring some of the ways that ladies have historically been involved with professional hockey in the Boston area. We've already seen in this very series of posts of that women are very much a part of the legacy of hockey in Boston -- from naming the Bruins to joining a road-trippin' band of rooters to involvement in charitable events, women have participated in the advent and flourishing of professional hockey in the Bay State since the start.
Boston women's interest in the game did not go unnoticed by people in positions of authority within the ranks of Boston's professional hockey teams, either. In particular, the folks running the 1935-36 Boston Tigers/Cubs (Boston's CAHL team), including Weston"Son of Charles" Adams, seemed to clue to in to the various ways in which ladies had gotten involved with hockey at all levels in the Boston area. At the same time, they also noticed that their team was playing kind of shitty hockey, and that interest in the team and its players was waning in the face of an abysmal 4-13-2 record. As an organization invested in increasing the buzz surrounding the team in the form of attendance (and revenue, one would assume), they did what anyone wanting to create excitement about their product would: they started to cater specifically to a previously untapped (undertapped?) market, that of the female hockey fan.
And so on January 3, 1936, the Boston Cubs held the first ever Ladies' Night in the history of Boston professional hockey. The matchup was against the New Haven Eagles, and featured future notable Bruins players such as Woody Dumart and Bobby Bauer. The Boston Globe reported with excitement on the debut of Ladies' Night, cheerfully proclaiming on January 2 that "any woman or girl will be admitted free, upon payment of the government tax" and that "no ‘escort' clause is stipulated in the offer."
Apparently the promise of free hockey (without an ‘escort,' even!) was enticing for the women of Boston -- Ladies' Night drew an attendance of "more than 3200 feminine spectators," as compared to a mere 1000 male attendees. Sadly, the Cubs lost 3-2 to the Eagles, but the Globe still proclaimed the event a triumph, noting that "the fair fans made as much noise as five times the number of men would have."
Whether the olde-timey version of the noise-o-meter was used to judge how loud the ‘fair fans' were, I couldn't say, but the enthusiasm with which the event was greeted prompted its organizers to strike while the proverbial iron was hot. Another Ladies' Night was scheduled for January 24, against those same New Haven Eagles. This time, the Cubs came out on top, trouncing the Eagles 7-3 for their third win in a row. Word had spread, both about the surging Cubs and about the success of the first Ladies' night, resulting in "more than 4000 women guests, almost twice as many as on the occasion of the inaugural party of the fanettes."
The crazy increase in attendance and corresponding growth in buzz surrounding the Cubs meant that Boston's women hockey fans would have several more occasions that season to take in a game for free, since Cubs' executives recognized a good thing when they had it. 6 more times (for a total of 8), the Cubs threw open their doors to female fans for free, and enjoyed a substantial bump in attendance each time. The final event, held during a March 5 game against the Providence Reds, saw over 8100 women fans attend -- more than double the attendance of men and women combined at the first Ladies' Night two months before.
The Ladies' Night program was an unmitigated success -- female hockey fans had shown up in droves to support Boston's CAHL team, and they brought with them an influx male visitors. Not everyone was as thrilled as Cubs' management regarding this development, however: in previewing the March 5 game against the Reds, Globe columnist Victor Jones wrote the following on these games geared towards attracting female fans:
Through the courtesy of Weston Wobbleyou Adams, Cubs' president, this is another Ladies' Night and whole slews of shrill-voiced women will be wedged into the old depot to root the home heroes on to victory...Since all women can get into the Garden for the mere Government tax, mere males are urged to purchase their tickets early.
Yeah. So there's that. Success of the program aside, some olde timey sports dudes were apparently pretty prone to dismissing the value of female hockey fans. Despite the obvious increase in attendance and positive buzz about the team that occurred in part because of a program that encouraged women to attend games and become invested in the team, Jones clearly felt that the presence of women at these events was irritating, and that male (more deserving) fans should make sure all their tickets weren't taken by said ‘shrill-voiced women.'
There's a whole ongoing discussion regarding the way female sports fans today are perceived/treated/talked about/valued -- as people much more erudite than I have rightly pointed out, there is no one way for people to enjoy hockey, and there certainly isn't any one way for fans -- regardless of gender -- to participate in their sports fandom. In a perfect world, we would all be able to say ‘whatever your reasons for being a fan, whatever your gender identification, it's all good, yo!' Alas, we don't live in a perfect world, and the way people enjoy sports is often still perceived to have something to do with their gender. Unfortunately, this is a column with limited space, and the discussion of modern gender politics as they relate to hockey and hockey's fans (which is an AWESOME and important discussion) is outside of the scope of it, but I bring up the present to illuminate the past: in 1936, as now, teams struggled with ways to expand the fanbase, and then (as now) one tactic was to reach out to women -- in this particular case, by hosting not one but a series of ‘Ladies' Nights' at Boston Cubs games, and, in turn, encouraging participation in what was unquestionably a male-dominated sport/fanbase.
By the end of the Cubs' 1935-36 season, women constituted a vital and enthusiastic portion of that fanbase, demonstrating once again that though we don't talk often about women as they related to hockey in the first half of the twentieth century, they were certainly present and participatory. They, like men, are embedded in the fabric of hockey's past, albeit in different ways. As we reflect on women's history this month, and as we reflect on history of professional hockey all day, every day (just me?), it's cool to remember that those are not two mutually exclusive pasts. Rather, they are both part of the same complicated, turbulent, sometimes triumphant and sometimes ugly history of the game we all love.