Friday, May 6, 2011

Mother, Owner, Fan

On this coming Mother's Day, we might pay tribute to one of the great mothers and fans in baseball, Helene Britton.

Britton's uncle, Stanley Robinson, along with Helene's father, Frank, were owners of a successful streetcar business in late 19th-century Cleveland. Their wealth enabled them to purchase the Cleveland Spiders in the the 1890s, which they then merged with the St. Louis Cardinals in 1900. On frequent family outings to ballparks in Cleveland and then St. Louis, they brought Helene along, who developed an enthusiasm for baseball, in addition to acquiring the more "refined" activities required of a woman of standing in the early twentieth century.

When her Uncle Stanley died in 1911, he shocked the world of baseball by leaving a controlling interest in the team to Helene, a 32-year-old mother of two, married to lawyer Schuyler Britton. Despite humiliating mockery from reporters and fans, she refused to sell her interest in the team. She brazenly attended all-male owners meetings and stood fast in the face of recalcitrant players, including her own team manager, whom she fired after mounting disagreements and an altercation in which he angrily said, "No woman can tell me how to run a ball game." And throughout her tenure as National League owner, she encouraged more women to take an interest in the game, moving Cardinals ticket sales from rough and male-dominated saloons to more respectable drugstores, arranging singing performances between innings, and, along with other clubs in the Midwest in 1917, eagerly instituting a "Ladies Day," when women, accompanied by a male escort, could get into the grandstands for free.

She finally sold the team in 1918, never losing her love for the game. She truly represented the will and determination of women--and mothers--in her day.

For a few more photos, see the Missouri History Museum's Flickr Exhibit. Useful biographies of Helene Britton can be found at and

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