Article in Sports / Baseball
Dorothy Jane Mills made this presentation on June 4, 2010 at the convention of the Association for Women in Sports Media. AWSM is composed of women sports writers and TV/radio sports commentators.

I have just joined a group that is forming a National Women's History Museum in Washington, D.C. As part of my membership I received this button. It bears the slogan, "Well-Behaved Women Rarely Make History." That's certainly true. I'm glad to report that the older I get, the less well-behaved I become, and I'm sure that's a change for the better, because in our culture it's mostly men who decide what women's good behavior is, and men's ideas on women's behavior change too slowly for my taste.

About my behavior: People who interview me always want to know two things: first, how did I become the first woman baseball historian, and second, how come they didn't become aware of me until just lately?

The short answer to the first question, how did I become the first woman baseball historian, is that in 1949 I married the man who became the first male baseball historian. But that exalted title would not have come to him without his partnership with me, as I will explain.

The short answer to the second question, why didn't the public become aware of me until lately, is that my late husband failed to reveal my contribution to the work we produced together, and I waited to explain our partnership until after his death in 1992. That always brings up another question: Why did I wait that long?

To this question there are only long answers, some of which I discuss in my autobiography, A Woman's Work, published by McFarland in 2004. But there's more to it than that.

I was eighteen when I met Harold Seymour. That's a little too early, in my opinion today, for beginning a lifelong partnership of equality with a man who was 17 years older than I was. Harold Seymour was one of my college history professors, so he was already well established in his field while I was only a novice in mine. Our first relationship, therefore, was as mentor and student. Although we gradually broke free of that structure, it continued to color our entire lives.

As an English major in college I was already writing articles, stories, and poems and was part of the leadership of the college newspaper, but on the baseball project he was at first the leader. It was his idea to write a doctoral dissertation for Cornell University about the early history of baseball. Nothing like that had ever been done in the field of history before. No historian had ever attempted to study and write baseball history.

When I met Harold Seymour, Cornell had accepted his proposal for a dissertation on early baseball history, and he had already satisfied Cornell's residence requirements and completed the course work for the doctorate. He was engaged in the research and writing of the dissertation while at the same time beginning to teach history at Fenn College, now called Cleveland State University, where I entered as a student in the fall of 1946.

Our relationship began during my sophomore year at Fenn when he advertised for secretarial help. I needed money in order to continue in college, and although I was already helping the head of the English department, I applied for the Seymour position, too, and was accepted. So my second role in connection with Seymour was that of secretary. As a result, to him I was always his assistant, despite the fact that I was to take charge of many aspects of the project we would work on jointly and eventually would take it over entirely.

For this secretarial position, Seymour said he needed his lecture notes retyped. But when I began work on them, I discovered that they needed a lot more than retyping; they needed reorganizing and in some cases rewriting. I explained that, and he agreed to my changes. While I was engaged in this work, he must have realized that the skills I brought to bear on his lectures could be used in the work he was trying to do on the dissertation. For after a while he began telling me about his thesis for Cornell on early baseball history.

I was intrigued with the idea, for I knew nothing about baseball history and at first had no notion that baseball even had a history. He began telling me about the information he had uncovered in manuscripts and early newspapers in the New York Public Library and other special collections about early baseball organizations and the colorful exploits of the gentleman players in the early New York-area teams, as well as other research he had in mind.

As an English major I had performed research and written research papers, so I understood what he was trying to do. In hearing about this innovative project and examining his first attempts at organizing his research and writing, I found it fascinating.

Seymour must have revealed my interest in his work and my abilities in this field to his friend, another history professor, who promptly asked me to work with him on his dissertation, too. I declined, knowing I could not do it all and carry on with my studies. Besides, Seymour and I were becoming special friends, although he was married. I eventually learned that his marriage was not what he had hoped, and he believed that he would have to end it. After that school year was over, we began to date secretly, and he started the legal proceedings for his divorce, which became final at the end of my junior year, when we were married.

We began our research together immediately after our brief honeymoon by traveling to St. Louis to work on the microfilmed archives of the baseball trade paper, The Sporting News. Immediately, I took over organization of our notes. That led to my organization of all the research material, which to me seemed to fall naturally into topical chapters. Eventually, I began preparing chapter outlines with quotations from the notes and including their citations. Gradually, these outlines morphed into first drafts of the chapters. We passed these drafts back and forth until both of us were satisfied with them.

Not only was I gradually taking over the writing, I was also taking over most of the research. I prepared all of our considerable correspondence, too, and made suggestions for new research. By the time we completed the doctoral dissertation and started on the books for Oxford University Press that followed, I was Seymour's complete and equal partner in the work.

Unfortunately, I still viewed myself as secondary in the baseball project. One reason was that Seymour was the one who'd had the idea for writing academic baseball history. He also had the academic history credentials, having earned the Ph.D. with the dissertation that I'd helped him prepare. I had earned only a master's degree, not in English or history but in education, for at his suggestion I gave up my original idea of becoming a journalist and entered teaching instead so that we would have summers off together to perform research and writing. I did take some courses toward a doctorate but never completed it. Instead, I became deeply absorbed in the preparation of our books for Oxford University Press.

While I was teaching first-grade reading I published my first articles and books in the field of education. Among them were children's books that I originally wrote for my students. One of these children's books, Ann Likes Red, eventually became a classic. But after 17 years I burned out as a teacher and joined a Boston publishing house as a senior editor, doing work that was more to my liking than teaching. While working as a fulltime editor I published more of my own books and articles relating to education. I was producing this research and writing while I continued to work daily on our baseball project.

It was not until we began on the third volume of the baseball history for Oxford that my lack of recognition for my work in baseball research and writing began to really bother me. By then I had left full-time editorial work and was freelancing both as a writer and as an editor. Meanwhile, Seymour's health was declining, and he contributed less and less to the baseball project, finally giving up entirely.

While working as an editor I had noticed that the title pages of many books we published listed husband-and-wife teams, and I realized that the title pages of our baseball books should have done the same. I put off challenging Seymour on this point because I knew he would react negatively. He was in fact too lacking in self-confidence to be able to share credit appropriately.

Finally, I told him that my name should be added to the title page under his, at least on this third volume. He refused. By then, I knew that his health was compromised by Alzheimer's Disease, so I did not press he matter further. Not long after I completed the third book by myself, I found him too difficult to handle, and I had to place him in a local institution, where after a few months he passed away. That was in 1992. It was only then that I felt comfortable revealing to Oxford's editor, and to the other professionals who had begun working in the field of baseball history, my real role in the preparation of these classic books.

Why didn't I insist much earlier on the revelation of my position in writing and researching this innovative project? Partly because it was difficult for me to emerge from the view of myself as an assistant on this project. In addition, I knew that Seymour's personality meant that he was unable to share the limelight. I realized that he thought of himself as very important and believed he was not receiving the attention he believed he deserved from the academic community because he had spent his career on such an untraditional subject. Sharing the credit would have been too much for him to accept.

But our culture is partly to blame, too. If you have read any women's history you know that women were long taught to assume that the male of the species was the creator and leader and that a woman was merely a man's helper. This idea was constantly reinforced by all religious leaders. Girls were brought up to accept that a man could be a physician and a woman his nurse; a man could be a business leader and a woman his secretary. When I was growing up in the 1930s, I must have absorbed this notion at least in part.

It's typical that when I was in high school my mother, a factory worker, once told me, "Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could grow up to be a secretary like your cousin?" I had no intention of growing up to be a secretary; I wanted to be a reporter, like my heroine, Doris O'Donnell of the Cleveland News, where I worked summers during college as a copy boy. There I saw how Doris, the only female beat reporter on the paper, successfully produced excellent bylined news and features, like the ones I was used to writing for the college paper. But Doris was unusual.

The only other women on the staff of the News in the 1940s were assigned to write obituaries or cover socialite engagements and weddings, or they merely typed stories phoned in by real reporters. As you are well aware, it took a while for the male leadership of newspapers to realize that women could be reporters who were as good at the job as men. And getting assigned to sports teams took many years. If you've read Doris's book, you know that like many others, when she tried to enter a baseball stadium's press box to do an assigned job, she was locked out by the other writers.

When in the year 2000 I was preparing my autobiography, called A Woman's Work, I included information demonstrating that throughout history it was not unusual for women to work on their husband's books without attribution and without realizing its unfairness. After A Woman's Work was published, I was swamped with other examples sent to me by readers who told me about famous male writers who used their wives' work or other women's work and let everyone assume it was their own. I included many of these examples in the book that followed, called Chasing Baseball, in which I also reviewed the recent spurt of excellent baseball history writing by women writers and researchers. It's a great satisfaction for me to see women succeed in writing academic books not only with their names on the title pages but also in a field that men have long believed to be exclusively their own: explaining and interpreting baseball history. I hope men have finally grasped that there is no writing that women cannot do.

Virginia Woolf, in talking about authors of books, once said that through most of history, the name Anonymous signaled a woman writer. The era of anonymity is over, even by women baseball historians, because although I was the first woman baseball historian, I'm no longer the only one, and the other women who have entered the field of baseball history will never be called Anonymous.

I'm not claiming that all men now see women as able to do any work they put their minds to. Many men, especially of my generation, still assume that women have a particular place in life, that men know what that place is, and that women should not try to move out of their traditional roles. Once about four years ago in a social situation I listened to a man express a thought like that. I responded, "You sound just like Hitler!" The words just popped out of my mouth. Talk about not being well-behaved! But I had just completed the writing of one of my historical novels, in which Hitler had a cameo role, so I had read a lot of what Hitler wrote, and I was using his real words in that book. You've probably heard that women of the Hitler regime were told that their place in life involved only three institutions: the kitchen, the church, and children. Hitler really believed in limiting women's role in this way. It's too bad that his opinion lived on so long. Nobody loves cooking and baking better than I do, but his idea of limiting women's goals in any way is simply unacceptable in a democracy.

I have discovered that today's men, even though they know better, still find it difficult to see women as able to do most anything men can do if they put their minds to it, and I can tell you two stories proving that some male sport historians of today still do not accept women as colleagues in the field.

First, an incident that occurred at Cornell University in the spring of last year. I was invited to speak for ten minutes at a Cornell event celebrating the Seymour dissertation and our three books published by Oxford University Press that followed, since they are the seminal historical works in baseball history, and they set the stage for all other serious historical work in the field.

The main speaker at this event was a male historian who several years ago wrote for a history journal an excellent analysis of the Oxford books that Seymour and I had produced. This historian spoke for about a half-hour about those books, and in his presentation he constantly used phrases like "in this section Seymour says" and "Seymour presents this information" and "Seymour reveals" and "Seymour comments."

After the historian's presentation, the head of the Cornell history department whispered to me, "He didn't even mention you!" I said, "I know, I'm used to it." He replied, "If you don't say something, I will.'" While I was thinking how I could contradict this main speaker in front of the entire Cornell history department and its grad students and guests, the Cornell department chairman got up and asked the speaker, "What would have happened if a woman had written baseball history in the 1950s?" The speaker gave a non-response by merely talking around the subject and never addressing it.

So I finally got up and said, "You mentioned throughout your presentation what an impressive amount of work went into these books. Who do you suppose did all that work?" He replied, "Oh, the Seymour Crowd." I answered, "There was no Seymour Crowd. There was only Seymour and me." He ignored my remark and still did not mention my contribution to these books. And at the formal dinner that followed he never even looked at me, much less did he speak to me.

When the Cornell History Department chairman drove me back to the airport, he said he could hardly believe what had happened, that he planned to address the matter by asking more women historians to speak, by covering the situation with his senior staff, and by writing about the event on the department web site so that my work could be mentioned. He told me, "It's obvious that some male historians still do not accept women in the field."

The next incident proving my point happened not long afterward. The Society for American Baseball Research is the primary organization to which many baseball historians belong. In 1996 the Society, known by its acronym S A B R, pronounced "saber," recognized my work with Seymour by establishing an award called the Dr. Harold and Dorothy Seymour Medal, which is given annually in our names to the author of the best book of history or biography published in the previous year. This is the most prestigious honor that SABR awards. Not only are both our names and profiles on the medal, SABR even awarded the first medal to me.

I thought that because of the name of this medal and the annual award ceremony, at which I always speak, everyone in SABR was aware that Seymour and I were equal partners in establishing baseball as a legitimate subject for historians to study, especially after the appearance of my autobiography in 2004, in which I explained my work. But I must have been wrong. Last year SABR decided to establish anther award, the Chadwick award, named after an early sports writer, to be given to the members who had contributed the most to the study of baseball. My late husband Harold Seymour was one of those listed to receive the award, and in the paragraph describing him, I was mentioned briefly, in a subordinate clause that read "assisted by his wife Dorothy." There I was, an assistant all over again.

This offhand mention of my contribution to a field that I had done so much to establish surprised and annoyed me, so I protested to the committee, and I informed other baseball historians about what had happened, especially the young women historians, who were well aware of my work since I was mentoring many of them. So the award committee received a lot of email protesting the wording of the award. As a result, the committee changed the wording of the paragraph to give me equal billing with Harold Seymour and pointing out that we were a writing team. Meanwhile, someone informed a New York Times reporter about this controversy. He interviewed me and published a rather inflammatory article about the matter. I hadn't intended it to go that far, but I'm glad now that it did, because I tire of playing second fiddle when I've long since graduated from concertmaster to maestro. The interview in the Times and in other papers who picked up on it meant that the story had a good play for about a month, and this spring sent out a reporter to interview me on the same topic, attempting to dig deeper into the matter. So my fifteen minutes of fame lasted more like 20 minutes.

The best result of my having objected to the first wording of the Chadwick Award is that Oxford University Press decided independently to change the title pages of the three Oxford books to include my name as co-author. Oxford has never done anything like that before; in making this change the Press is overriding the person long considered to be the author of these books. In addition, on the third book, for which I was actually the primary author, my name now precedes that of Harold Seymour. You can't begin to realize what satisfaction this gives me. From now on, those who buy the books long considered the standard works on baseball history will see that they were a joint project, not written only by Harold Seymour.

Sometimes things happen demonstrating to me that men are still discovering that women are fully rounded humans. Last month the Associated Press published a story revealing that whiskey isn't just a men's drink any more, that bourbon is popular among women, and the manufacturers, finally realizing that, are actually beginning to market it to women. A Kentucky woman was quoted as saying she felt a sense of relief in finally being at a point where "we can be taken seriously as women who enjoy bourbon and the lifestyle that accompanies it." So perhaps men are beginning to realize that when a woman comes home from a hard day's work, she might like to relax as they do, with a drink and a pair of house slippers.

It's okay to feel relief that women are beginning to be viewed as fully human, but let's not remain complacent about our position, especially in the world of work. I have found it necessary to remain vigilant about proper recognition. Twice recently I had had to point out to leaders in my field cases where I feel other women historians aren't receiving appropriate recognition for their work.

Other things have happened to me to demonstrate clearly that male writers often think of women writers in a different category from male writers. For example I can't begin to recall how many times during my long lifetime that I've listened to a man say to me, "I'd like you to write my book for me." I've come to think of this approach as propositioning. After all, these men have a proposition, one they are sure will meet with a favorable response or else they wouldn't make it. They think it is a flattering proposal. They firmly believe that women writers are there to assist them in presenting their ideas to the world.

To this approach, I have devised a response that I think is appropriate. I reply, "If I write your book, who will write my books?" This helps them realize that I, too, have book ideas. If necessary, I reveal the number of books I've published, which is now up to 25, with one more in press, most of them written independently, without any co-author, and that I have a folder full of book ideas waiting to be worked on. This response may help them realize that women, too, generate books. Perhaps I should be asking if they would like to help me write my books.

I'll bet at least some of you have had men ask for your help in writing their books. Could I have a show of hands?

If it hasn't happened to you, I believe it will happen. And now you know how deeply you can dig a hole in your self-confidence if you don't protect yourself in any such working relationship by seeing to it from the beginning that your contribution to any writing project is appropriately acknowledged.

Women writers make history, too, but sometimes the only way to do it is to become what men may think of as badly-behaved, or demanding, or lacking in the understanding of women's place. I have come to believe that women's place is wherever they want it to be. Today women are competing successfully in Iron Man competitions, they are playing baseball successfully in independent leagues; they are soldiers, astronauts, business leaders, and government leaders. They are making history because they know that they need not limit themselves to any particular role. To me, today's women are Awesome.

Dorothy Jane Mills Identity Verified

About the Author 

Dorothy Jane Mills
Dorothy Jane Mills is an author, editor, consultant & speaker who has written numerous sports history, historical fiction & children's books

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