Smith College Class of 1902 Basketball Team (C.1902), Wikimedia Commons.

More than a century ago, the first women’s collegiate basketball championship was played in Massachusetts between Smith College sophomores and freshman. “Smith March Madness 1892” is a 8:20 minute video about the game. Senda Berenson, known as the “Mother of Women’s Basketball” and Director of Physical Training at Smith, introduced the game of basketball, developed by James Naismith the year before, to her Smith students. “Major newspapers and magazines in the Northeast covered the championship game, and reporters equated the popularity of the event to the Harvard Yale men’s football game.”

Senda Berenson wrote an article entitled “Basket Ball for Women” in the September 1894 issue of Physical Education, available courtesy of Springfield College, Babson Library, Archives and Special Collections.  She says, “The value of athletic sports for men is not questioned. It is a different matter, however, when we speak of athletics for women. Until very recent years, the so-called ideal woman was a small waisted, small footed, small brained damsel, who prided herself on her delicate health, who thought fainting interesting, and hysterics fascinating. Wider and more thorough knowledge has given us more wholesome and saner ideas.”

Digital Commonwealth and other archives and libraries have helped to preserve and provide access to documents, images, and audio and video files related to women in sports. One example is the audio file for a lecture given at UMass in 1978 by Wilma Rudolph, bronze medalist in 1956 Olympics and three-time gold medalist in 1960. At the time of the lecture, she had just published her autobiography, Wilma, and hearing her story in her own voice is inspirational. In the audio file, she speaks of her upbringing as the 20th of 22 children in small-town Tennessee. As a child, the fastest woman in the world had survived pneumonia, scarlet fever, and polio, and wore a leg brace for much of her early life.

The challenges that Wilma Rudolph had to overcome were many. She graciously gave credit to the family members, friends, fellow athletes, and coaches who helped her along the way. As she tells her story, she says that there came a point when she had to have faith in herself in order to reach her full potential.

Wilma Rudolph at the finish line during 50 yard dash at track meet in Madison Square Garden (1961), Wikimedia Commons.

Wilma Rudolph was a world class athelete before Title IX was signed into law. She had to make her way on her own and with the support system that she was able to construct without the benefit of the law enshrining women’s rights.

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (“Title IX”), signed into law on June 23, 1972, was designed to prohibit discrimination on the basis of sex in education programs and activities in all public and private elementary and secondary schools, school districts, colleges, and universities receiving any Federal funds .Title IX has broader implications than just creating a level playing field for women athletes. But in the years since the law was passed, untold opportunities have opened up for women in sports.

Women’s Sport Foundation, “Chasing Equity: The Triumphs, Challenges, and Opportunities in Sports for Girls and Women” (2020), p 13.

The implementation of Title IX has had a rocky road. It was not clear in the original law exactly how educational institutions would balance spending for men’s and women’s athletic programs. Universities with men’s football and men’s basketball programs that were spending and generating vast sums of money felt threatened by the law. Digital Commonwealth provides a link to a 1979 MacNeil/Lehrer Report on Title IX Women’s Sports. In his introduction to the half hour video file, Robert MacNeil says “many people wonder whether glamorous, big-time, big-money college sports are threatened by the drive to give women an equal share in college athletics. Tonight, sex discrimination in sports, and the debate over a law called Title IX.”

Progress has not been easy. Digital Commonwealth and its member institutions will continue to provide access to documentation of the uphill battle for equity in sports for girls and women.

Barbara Schneider, Member Outreach and Education Committee

Women’s Cross Country Race (1995)
Courtesy of Springfield College, Babson Library, Archives and Special Collections.

Written by Patricia Feeley

WAFS Pilot 1 paper doll in military outfit
WAFS Pilot 1 paper doll in outfits from Lawrence Public Library
WAFS Pilot 1 paper doll in mufti
WAFS Pilot 1 paper doll from Lawrence Public Library

The holiday season was celebrated at Digital Commonwealth by adding some interesting collections.  Our biggest contributors, Boston Public Library and the University of Massachusetts/Amherst, of course, did their bit.  But let’s highlight our other two contributors.

The Jamaica Plain Historical Society performed a good deed for all Bostonians by sponsoring the digitization of the Doyle’s Café memorabilia.  When that 137-year-old institution closed in October 2019, many of the pub’s decorations and ephemera were auctioned off.  JPHS made sure a record was made before they all disappeared into private collections.  Thank you!

The Lawrence Public Library has been a frequent and welcome contributor.  This month’s collection, the Phyllis Tyler Paper Doll Collection, is another set of seldom seen ephemera.  If the fashions didn’t give away the fact that this set is from the 1940’s, the celebrity dolls – Betty Grable and Ava Gardner – would.  Perhaps most striking is the WAFS (Women’s Air Force) pilot dolls in both military and mufti (left and right respectively).  Yes, women did their bit in World War II, too.

My very first post on the Digital Commonwealth blog was an interview with Louise Sandberg of the Lawrence Public Library.  She was knowledgeable, encouraging and funny.  She was a perfect first interview.  I’ve interviewed other members since and they have been universally enthusiastic about their collections and digitizing through DC.

I am grateful to all of them, although maybe a little more grateful to Alison Basset and Sarah Hayes of the Trustees for introducing me to one of my favorite images (Studio portrait of unidentified woman in black dress and monocle with cigarette posing with Great Dane; whip and globe on floor, which has as great a backstory as it is a photo.) and to Dick Rowley of the Granville Public Library, a dedicated correspondent and proof, if you need it, that a small library can have a big impact thanks to social media crowdsourcing, the Granville Historic Image Library, partnering with local history organizations and more.

It’s been an honor to be editor of this blog for three years and it is a joy to know I’m passing the editorship on to someone who loves the collections and finds our members just as fascinating as I did.  (Good luck, Anne!)

You were all inspirational to me.  I hope I did you some justice in these postings.

Boston Public Library
Paintings and Fine Arts Collection at the Boston Public Library – 10 items added to existing collection

Jamaica Plain Historical Society
Doyle’s Cafe Memorabilia – 111 items

Lawrence Public Library
Phyllis Tyler Paper Doll Collection – 258 items

University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries Special Collections and University Archives
27 new collections; 23,055 new items re-harvested

Sandwich High School, class of 1940
Sandwich High School, class of 1940 from the Sandwich Town Archives

Sometimes when I write these blog entries, I mention in passing that, ho-hum, the Boston Public Library or UMass/Amherst have added – again – to their extensive holdings.  I like to shine the spotlight on the little guy, like Northfield Mount Hermon or the Sandwich Town Archives.

Then I see this month’s addition by UMass/Amherst of two – count ‘em, two – collections totaling 9,135 items.  Wow.  Words fail me.

In the meantime, even if you didn’t attend Sandwich High School, you should enjoy a look at the class photos from the 1940s-1970s.  (See left.) It is interesting to note the growing population and, always, the change in hairstyles and fashion.  If you follow this blog, you know that I love a good map and the Massachusetts Archives has added more town plans.  The plan of Monson by Aaron Bliss is jarringly colorful.  (See below.)  Once you zoom in, it looks like a town plan.  In the thumbnail, I keep thinking abstract expressionism.  Very Picasso.

Plan of Monson made by Aaron Bliss, dated 1831
Plan of Monson made by Aaron Bliss, dated 1831from the Massachusetts Archives

Boston Public Library
American Masters 1850-1960 – 4 items

Digital Transgender Archive
9 collections – 2391 items re-harvested

Massachusetts Archives
Town plans, 1830 – 324 items

Northfield Mount Hermon
The Hermonite (1888-1969) – 38 items

Sandwich Town Archives
Sandwich Town Archives Historical Photograph Collection – 33 items

Scottish Rite Masonic Museum & Library
6 collections – 501 items

University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries Special Collections and University Archives
2 collections – 9,135 items re-harvested


 from the Public Works Department Photographs collection
105 State Street, Boston from the Public Works Department Photographs collection

Strike up the band, fire the confetti cannon and release the balloons!  Digital Commonwealth is celebrating the half million item mark.  Thanks, in part, to the large and small collections below, Digital Commonwealth by the end of August was able to offer access to 529, 444 items.

On August 23, you could commemorate the 90th anniversary of Sacco and Vanzetti’s execution by perusing the 285 additional items added to the Boston Public Library’s Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee Collection.

Or you could remember your summer vacation trips around Massachusetts by comparing your GPS maps to the more than 400 1794 town plans in the Massachusetts Archives’ Town Plan Collection.  Wait, school is starting and your brain is working and you know Massachusetts only has 351 cities and towns.  What gives?  In 1794, Massachusetts still had a province in what is now Maine, so be careful when you look for Falmouth.  There are two of them.

Or you could play the “then and now” game with the City of Boston Archives Public Works Department Photographs Collection, one of twenty and including over 1,000 photos by itself.  My how you’ve changed, 105 State Street.

So whether you are partial to the early daguerreotypes included in Historic Newton’s collection or the Town of Rockport’s maps, there’s something for everyone in the 85 collections added in August or the over half million total items on Digital Commonwealth.  Enjoy!

Boston Public Library

Medieval and Early Renaissance Manuscripts (Collection of Distinction) – 3 items added to existing collection

Sacco-Vanzetti Defense Committee (Collection of Distinction) – 285 items added to existing collection

Sir Muirhead Bone (1876-1953). Prints, Drawings, and Paintings – 577 items

Huntington family from the Historic Newton Early Photograph collection
Huntington family from the Historic Newton Early Photograph collection


Cape Cod Community College

Cape Cod Association Collection, 1851-1969 – 80 items


City of Boston Archives

20 collections – 3,750 records harvested


Historic Newton

Historic Newton Early Photograph Collection – 279 items



Plan of Greenwich from the  Mass. Archives Town Plans, 1794 collection
Plan of Greenwich from the Mass. Archives Town Plans, 1794 collection

Massachusetts Archives

Town plans, 1794 – 403 items


Noble & Cooley Center for Historic Preservation

Laws, Regulations and Commerce Collection – 3 items

NCCHP Museum Collection – 2 items

Noble & Cooley Business Correspondence Collection – 2 items

Noble & Cooley Employee Collection – 7 items

Trade Catalog Collection – 4 items


Town of Rockport

Rockport Town Clerk, Street, Roads and Maps – 228 items


University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries Special Collections and University Archives

53 collections – 26,759 records re-harvested


Written by Patricia Feeley, Interlibrary Loan Librarian, Boston Public Library

The handwritten caption on this photo states, “Taken Ropepull day Sept. 18, 1895”.  I don’t know if these mostly cheerful, mostly young men are rope pullers (tug of warriors?) or spectators.  The University of Massachusetts at Amherst simply calls it, “Rope pull, undated”.

I was originally looking at the many photos of rope pulls/tugs of war (tug of wars?) in the Digital Commonwealth collection.  UMass/ Amherst, Springfield College and Clark University all contributed photos.  Concentrating on the variety at UMass/Amherst, you’ll find photos showing teams already in the campus pond, digging in on the shore and gathered triumphantly wreathed in the hard-won rope.   But then I saw this one:

 Rope pull, undated from University of Massachusetts/Amherst
Rope pull, undated from University of Massachusetts/Amherst Photograph Collection

It shows us a near pyramid of men in a field.  Take a closer look. They are sitting on hay bales.  There is nothing other than the caption to indicate this is a team (or teams) of rope pullers or spectators.  What it does show is hats, hats and more hats.  There are top hats, stove pipe hats, bowlers, scally caps and hats I don’t even have names for.  About the only style I can’t find is the currently ubiquitous baseball cap.  The man without a hat is the exception.  A couple of especially dandy students even have walking sticks.

In the third row, far left, a young man holds a small flag with the number 97 on it.  I like to think he, if not most of this crowd, was from the Class of 1897.  One person who was not is in the second row, about 5 in from the right, wearing a Lord Fauntleroy collar.  I doubt he was on the rope pull that day.  Some college fashion, however, is timeless.  Look closely at the front, far right side.  You’ll see a few students in school sweatshirts.  Back in the day, of course, UMass was Massachusetts Agricultural College, hence the MAC shirts.

So, if your favorite college student is constantly outfitted in baseball cap and sweatshirt, he (or she) is simply following a long tradition.  Take a photo of him and his friends – hay bales optional.  In 100 years, it may deserve a closer look.

If you have a favorite photo as deserving of A Closer Look as this merry bunch, please let us know.  Send your Closer Look or a link to your photo to