In 1919, three years after National League officials stepped in to stop the Chicago Cubs’ plans for a Ladies Day promotion, the team ran an advertisement over the signature of the club’s president asking:
“When your husband comes home in the evening in a laughing jovial mood and tells you he was out at Cubs Park and saw those same Cubs whale this or that team, did you ever attempt to picture in your own mind just what scenes he has witnessed?
“Well don’t try. Come out on Friday afternoon as the guest of the Cubs and see with your own eyes the scenes that have such a fascination for your husbands, your brothers, your sons, your sweethearts.”
Ladies Day promotions once had been common. Charles Weeghman used Ladies Day to promote the Chicago Whales, his team in the Federal League, an upstart rival to the National and American Leagues that lasted only a couple of years in the early 20th century.
When the league failed in 1915, Weeghman bought the Chicago Cubs, a team that played at West Side Grounds on Taylor Street. Weeghman hoped that Ladies Days would lure fans to the park he built at Clark and Addison streets, which would subsequently be known as Wrigley Field.
Decades later, the tacit ban on Black players in Major League Baseball would be dropped, motivated in part by a need to enlarge the league’s potential audience. A similarly economic motive underlay Ladies Day. In June 1922, the Cubs ran another advertisement, albeit in pre-politically correct language, after two previous Ladies Day promotions were marred by a rainout and a Cubs loss.
“The Club is convinced, however, that if we keep our heads up the Chicago women will prove the best kind of mascots, and is arranging another Free LADIES Day at Cubs Park Today.”
The team had been acquired by William Wrigley Jr., a chewing-gum merchant and merchandising maven who once mailed sticks of gum to every home in the nation listed in a phone book. He brought a similar marketing strategy to the Cubs.
“I manufacture chewing gum and give samples to the public,” Wrigley said. “I own a ball club in the National League, and I give away samples of baseball.”
The Cubs for years were baseball’s chief promoters of Ladies Day, which regularly drew more than 10,000 females to the ballpark. On some days hundreds more were turned away at the gate.
A predecessor of the Cubs, the Chicago White Stockings, advertised Ladies Day as early as 1890, according to this announcement in the Tribune:
“The management of the Chicago White Stocking Park propose to use every legitimate means to popularize their handsome grounds, and next Thursday they will inaugurate a movement that will no doubt prove beneficial. It will be known as ladies’ day, ladies accompanied by escort being admitted free to all the privileges of the park.”
The escort requirement was the economic payoff. For every nonpaying woman, they would sell a ticket to a man.
Still, no one could top the campaign for female fans mounted by Wrigley and the team’s president, Bill Veeck Sr. Wrigley embraced radio as a way to promote his team. He also reasoned that since many women were housekeepers, they’d likely be listening to the radio in the afternoon, when Cubs home games were played.
A Sporting News reporter confirmed the strategy’s success, noting: “radio has converted a great many women into fans” of baseball.
On June 27, 1930, 30,476 women dominated a record Wrigley Field crowd of 51,556, the Tribune reported (while noting the park had more seats in those days and a field overflow was permitted). A Chicago American reporter marveled at “Mothers standing in the deep extremities of center field with babies in their arms.”
Yet not everyone liked Ladies Day, including presumably the 10,000 ticket holders left stranded outside the overstuffed park on that occasion. From the beginning, Ladies Day had its critics.
Women were said to be ignorant of baseball’s fundamentals, ballpark etiquette and a housewife’s responsibilities.
“I have attended a few Ladies Days ball games at Cubs’ park this season,” a man wrote in a 1930 letter to the Tribune. “They shriek and they holler and yell. They don’t know or see whether the batter struck out, if the runner was safe, or what inning is being played.”
“Some of the women are more loyal to the team than they are to the old man, who is probably at home wondering when in hell he’s going to get his supper,” the Tribune suggested in a 1932 piece, “Ladies Days Are Swell—We Like a Good Riot, Too.”
Cubs manager Phil Cavarretta put a positive spin on Ladies Day deportment. “There’s a lot of shrieking and screaming, but you know the women are behind you on every play,” he told Collier’s magazine in 1952.
But shortly, Ladies Day was feeling the heat of a gender-equity movement. A New York man claimed that the Yankees violated his civil rights by giving discounted tickets or free passes to women for which he wasn’t eligible. In 1973, the New York Human Relations Commission ruled in his favor, putting the handwriting on the wall for other ballparks.
Still, the promotion endured, despite occasional criticism. In 1982, the Tribune’s editorial board endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment, prompting a reader to chastise the paper for not practicing what it preached.
“Because the Tribune Company also owns the Cubs, I think I have found a way for you to demonstrate that your belief in ERA is not just on paper,” John Fitzgibbon wrote. “Put an end to the unfair tradition of Ladies Day at Wrigley Field.”
Though Ladies Day’s days were then numbered, it had acquired the immortality of the written word. For decades to come, it appeared in obituaries of women for whom a day at a ballpark was a treasured lifelong memory.
Ruth Klopfenstein’s 2009 death notice in the Tribune noted: “The first years of her life were on a farm without electricity,” and she subsequently “developed a passion for the Chicago sports scene, frequently attending Ladies Day at Wrigley Field with her children.”
That same year, Erika Rosenthal’s obituary in the Tribune included stories about the world of her youth. A grandson recalled that she loved to take him to Cubs games and “liked to talk about going to games on Ladies Day, when her admission was just ten cents.”
Thanks to David Passman of Chicago for suggesting this story.