Houghton, Edith (1912—)

views updated

Houghton, Edith (1912—)

American baseball player and scout for the Philadelphia Phillies. Born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, on February 12, 1912; never married; no children.

One of ten children, Edith Houghton was born in Philadelphia in 1912 and, by age six, was playing hardball, posing for pictures in a pintsized uniform. At age eight, she was the mascot of the Philadelphia police baseball teams and, at ten, was playing shortstop for the Philadelphia Bobbies, a team founded by Mary O'Gara in 1922 and comprised of young female players from 13 to 20. Houghton, the youngest on the team, had to tighten her cap with a safety pin and punch holes in her belt in order to hold up her billowing uniform. In 1925, she toured Japan with the Bobbies, who were joined at the time by major-league catcher Eddie Ainsmith and pitcher Earl Hamilton. Booked to play 15 games against men's college teams, the first "American Team" was initially a huge attraction in Japan, and Houghton was singled out by the Japanese and English-language press for her extraordinary hitting and fielding. Unfortunately, Houghton's talent could not carry the team, and when they began to lose games the public and press soon tired of them. Reportedly, when their sponsors would not pay for their fare home, they were stranded in Kobe until a sympathetic hotel owner took pity and financed their return journey as far as Seattle.

Once back in Philadelphia, Houghton left the Bobbies and joined other teams, including a stint with the Passaic (NJ) Bloomer Girls whose opponents included the Pennsylvania men's teams. "This Miss played as good a brand of ball as any male player has displayed at Maple Shade this season," wrote one reporter of Houghton's afternoon performance. "In addition to pasting out five hits, including two doubles and a screaming homer, she handled six tries at short in major league fashion." In 1931, Houghton played with the Hollywood Bloomer Girls, who barnstormed through Texas and Oklahoma during the Depression, often playing against minor league teams. As the Bloomer era came to a close in 1933, Houghton tried out and was accepted by the Fisher A.A.'s, a men's semipro team. Playing first base, she received no special treatment from either the pitchers or the fielders. "They sent the ball over the plate to her with just as much speed," wrote a reporter, "and threw them to first base with as much zip as though she had a couple of baseball hams for hands."

By the mid-1930s, baseball opportunities for women had pretty much dried up, and Houghton was forced to play softball, which she initially hated. After mastering the technique of hitting the large, sluggish ball, she played for a few years with the Roverettes in Madison Square Garden. Her career was interrupted by World War II, during which time she joined the WAVES (Women Appointed for Volunteer Emergency Service), working in supplies and accounts. She also joined the department's baseball team, where she hit .800 during a streak.

After the war, Houghton took a job as a glassware buyer for a Philadelphia wholesaler, but she missed baseball. In 1946, she wrote Bob Carpenter, owner of the Philadelphia Phillies, requesting an interview. Letting her scrapbook serve as a resume, Houghton asked for a job as a scout. In an unprecedented move, Carpenter took her on, thus making her the first woman ever hired as a major league scout. During her six-year tenure, she signed approximately 15 players, two of whom made it to Class B ball.

Houghton was called up by the navy to serve during the Korean War; following her stint, she did not return to scouting, finding it too competitive. "The way I feel about scouting," she said, "is if you see somebody who's great, you can bet your buttons ten others are after him, too." She eventually retired to Florida.


Gregorich, Barbara. Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball. NY: Harcourt, Brace, 1993.

Barbara Morgan , Melrose, Massachusetts