Missouri and Ozarks History

Information and comments about historical people and events of Missouri, the Ozarks region, and surrounding area.

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I'm a freelance writer specializing in the history of the Ozarks and surrounding region. I've written sixteen nonfiction books, two historical novels, and numerous articles. My latest books are Wicked Women of Missouri, Yanked Into Eternity: Lynchings and Hangings in Missouri, and Show-Me Atrocities: Infamous Incidents in Missouri History.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

The All-American Redheads

Long before the Women's National Basketball Association (WNBA), a women's professional basketball team called the All-American Redheads toured the United States, succesfully competing against men's teams and entertaining spectators in much the same fashion that the Harlem Globetrotters did on the men's side. The Redheads got their start in 1936 at Cassville, Missouri, where the owner and organizer of the team, Connie Mack (C. M.) Olson, lived at the time. Olson owned and played for a barnstorming men's team, and since his wife, Doyle, was also a good basketball player, he decided to start a traveling women's team that would play by men's rules, featuring five-on-five, full-court basketball rather than six-on-six, half-court basketball that girls usually played at the time. He recruited girls who were not only good basketball players but who were also tall and physical. The women regularly beat men's and boys' teams when they went on the road in 1936, but the thing that contributed to their success perhaps as much as their playing ability was a marketing gimmick that Olson came up with. His wife, Doyle, owned and operated several beauty parlors in the area, and someone suggested that all the girls who weren't already redheaded should color their hair using henna dye. The suggeston was adopted, the team became the All-American Redheads, and fans began flocking to see them play.
In the mid 1950s, Olson sold the Redheads to Orwell Moore, whom he had previously hired to coach the team, and Moore moved the team's headquarters to Caraway, Arkansas. Title IX of the Education Amendment of 1972, more than any other factor, contributed to the gradual demise of the All-American Redheads, because it opened up previously unavailable opportunities for girls and young women to compete in high school and college basketball just as boys and young men had been doing for years. Instead of aspiring to play for the Redheads, outstanding female basketball players gradually began aspiring to play for stellar college teams like the University of Tennessee. The Redheads finally disbanded in 1986, and the team played its last game ten years later when former players got together for a reunion.


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