By Venu Palaparthi
In 1895, Rosemary Hall, a girls preparatory school founded by Mrs. Caroline Ruutz-Rees of England defeated Mrs. Hazen's School for Girls (popularly known as Pelham Hall) in a cricket match played at Wallingford, Connecticut.
There is no official record of this first ever match but New York Times referred to the 1895 victory of Rosemary Hall a year later when Pelham Hall returned the favor.
The contest, where the winner took home a "light blue banner," became an annual tradition, and is the oldest interscholastic sporting event for girls in USA for any sport.
Indeed, girls played sports before 1895, but these were intramurals. A basketball match was played between girls of Montclair High and Horace Mann of New York City in 1897. But the Pelham Hall versus Rosemary Hall cricket match preceded both this basketball match and the Girls Interscholastic Athletic League, which was formed in 1900.
In fact, a photo is said to exist in the Pelham Library in a book titled The Pelham Manor Story 1891 - 1991 written by James B. Saunders, who wrote "Young ladies of Mrs. Hazen's School (Pelham Hall) dropped their bat and ball long enough to pose for the photographer before engaging the girls of Rosemary Hall in a serious contest of cricket." Mr. Saunders also wrote, "Results of the game are lost in history."
Mr. Saunders need not have despaired. Thanks to New York Times, there is a more detailed record of the Pelham Hall versus Rosemary Hall inter-school match for 1896, which DreamCricket.com has tracked down.
In a story filed on November 14, 1896, Times noted: The Esplanade lawn at "Prospect Hill was the scene here today of a winter contest of a most unusual kind." The writer was quite taken by the novelty of it all and went on to describe the occasion vividly. "Bareheaded and wearing sweaters and short skirts, daughters of some of the most prominent men in the country defied the cold, wintry wind. With enthusiasm and skill the twenty-two bowled, batted, and fielded. A large crowd, chiefly composed of Pelham's most fashionable folk, witnessed the game. Excitement ran high, for last year the Pelham Hall girls journeyed to Wallingford and were defeated by the Rosemary cricketers. Today the losers on that occasion struggled successfully to win back the light-blue banner they lost in Connecticut."
"The weather, the waving of ribbons and banners, and the college cries would have done justice to a Yale-Harvard football match," the reporter wrote. Rosemary Hall won the toss and put Pelham to bat. With 15 in the first innings and 21 in the second innings, Annie King, captain of Pelham, was the highest scorer on the day. Miss King, the daughter of John King Jr, the Vice President of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, also took 7 wickets with the ball. Pelham Hall scored 81 in the first innings and 51 in the second. Rosemary Hall was dismissed for just 26 in the first innings and were defeated by a 69 run margin after they collapsed for 37 in the second innings.
Shouts of "Hurrah, hear us call; Hazen, Hazen, Pelham Hall," were heard around the ground and the blue banner was won by the girls of Pelham Hall.
The contest between the girls of Pelham Hall and Rosemary Hall continued for several years. In 1898, Rosemary Hall hired a women's cricket coach - her name was Mrs. Hulseberg and she was perhaps the first women's cricket coach in USA.
The Pelham Hall, founded by Mrs. Emily John Cunningham Hazen, closed in 1915. Rosemary Hall continues to this day as Choate-Rosemary Hall after its merger with Choate.
One way to celebrate Rosemary Hall's pioneering and historical achievement is to restart this cricketing tradition in the school.
Pic Courtesy: Choate Rosemary Hall
Mrs. Hazen's School (Pelham Hall)
Pic Courtesy: Blake Bell