“The Lady in Blue”
Amanda Clement was the first paid women to umpire a baseball game in the United States. Born March 20, 1888 in the town Hudson in the Dakota Territory (later admitted into the Union as South Dakota), Amanda grew up next to a ballpark. She and her brother Hank were raised by their mother Harriet Clement. Her father died when she was quite young. Harriet was no shrinking violet, having been one of the first female settlers in Eden, South Dakota a couple years earlier.
Amanda grew up watching her brother and the neighborhood boys play ball. While she only played with them if they were short of boys, Amanda often acted as umpire for them. In 1904, she and her mother went to watch Hank pitch for Renville in a semi-professional game in Hawarden, Iowa. The regular umpire failed to show. Hank asked if Amanda could fill in for the missing umpire. She had to beg her mother’s permission first. Harriet was not thrilled with the idea of her daughter umpiring since it was outside the socially acceptable idea of gender roles around the turn of the century. Finally, she relented and Amanda jumped in.
A bit of background on the role of umpires during the early years of “America’s Favorite Pastime” is perhaps needed. Today, baseball games are called by two or more umpires. That was not the case in the early 1900s. Amanda was in charge of the entire field. Because of that, she stood behind the pitching mound instead of behind the catcher or elsewhere on the field. From making calls on plays, to whether a pitch was a strike or a ball and even to handling disciplinary actions, Amanda was the only one making the decisions. To add to everything, umpires were also not allowed to wear protective gear. They were exposed to errant balls and running players.
Being an umpire was not an easy task. Expressions such as “kill the umpire” were not thrown around idly. Fans of minor and major league games had actually assaulted umpires before and some were even killed as a result of the brutal attacks. However, in this situation, Amanda’s gender was an advantage. Since it was socially unacceptable for gentlemen to insult a lady verbally, let alone to physically assault one, she was treated with politeness. She said the following in 1906 about the dangers of female umpires:
Do you suppose any ball player in the country would step up to a good-looking girl and say to her: ‘You color-blind, pickle-brained, cross-eyed idiot, if you don’t stop throwing the soup onto me, I will distribute your features all over this ground until the janitor will be compelled to soak you up with gasoline?’ Of course, he wouldn’t. Ball players aren’t a bad lot. In fact, my experience is that they have more than the usual allowance of chivalry. And I don’t believe there’s anybody in the country that would speak rudely to a woman umpire, even if he thought his drive was ‘safe a mile’ instead of a foul.
Back to the 1904 game between Renville and Hawarden, Amanda was allowed to umpire the first game. She was only 16-years-old when she took her place behind the pitching mound. Standing at 5’10”, Amanda tucked some baseballs into the band of her long blue shirt, tucked her hair under a hat and yelled “Play ball!” She watched and called all the plays at the home plate, on the bases and in the outfield. Amanda impressed everyone. They immediately asked her to stay and call the next game.
For the next six years, Amanda umpired semi-pro games for $15 to $25 per game. During the summer she would work 50-60 games. Her uniform consisted of a full-length blue shirt, black necktie, blue blouse and peaked cap – soon she changed to a white blouse with UMPS on the front. Promoters wanted Amanda to umpire their games since she was considered a novelty and drew in large crowds. Often billed as “The Only Lady Umpire in the World”, “World Champion Woman Umpire” and “The Lady in Blue” – Amanda also earned the respect of the players and sports reporters alike. One reporter wrote that “she is death on balls and strikes” while another stated that she was “more than just a pretty face.” The Meriden Daily Journal in Connecticut summed up her skills as an umpire:
She understands the fine points of the game, knows “inside play and, being the possessor of an eagle eye, seldom makes a mistake. She is so superior to the common run of umpires throughout the northwest that her services are in much demand, and two months of the last season she has been constantly employed.
Around the country people knew about Amanda. However, she declined requests to work in the eastern states. She stayed in the upper-Midwest and called games in the Dakotas, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska. When asked if she enjoyed umpiring, Amanda responded that she did. “It isn’t as easy as it looks, but for all that, there is a good deal of enjoyment in the work. Of course the players kick, sometimes just awfully, but not when I’m umpiring,” Amanda said. “Maybe it’s because I’m a girl, but I believe that I give decisions exactly as I see it and in doing that, I seem to satisfy the players and the patrons of the game. You’ve got to have confidence in your ability or you won’t do well at anything.”
When asked if umpiring could be a suitable occupation for women, The Pittsburgh Press quoted Amanda as saying that, “There is no reason why a young woman cannot make a business of umpiring and be a perfect lady. I maintain that it is just as womanly as it is to play tennis. It certainly is healthful and many a woman in poor physical condition would be benefited immensely if she could spend a summer out in the sun umping.”
With the money she earned she paid for college. Amanda first attended Yankton College then the University of Nebraska where she studied physical education. Her skills and interests reportedly stretch far wider than just baseball. During college, she played basketball (which she was the team captain) and tennis (she was said to have won tennis championships). There was even mention of her being the best all-round gymnast in school. At Nebraska, Amanda also participated in track and field and, supposedly, held unofficial records in shotput, sprints and hurdles. I use supposedly since very few institutions kept records of female sporting events. However what is known is that, in 1912, Amanda threw a baseball 279 feet – a world record for a female.
After college, Amanda stopped umpiring. She became a teacher in South Dakota, North Dakota and Wyoming as well as coached individuals and teams in various athletic sports. Amanda also did physical education work for the Y.W.C.A. in LaCrosse, Wisconsin before moving back to Hudson, South Dakota in 1929 to care for her elderly mother. There she worked as a social worker. The same year she was the coach of the Hudson Independent basketball team and worked on the weekly newspaper. To add to everything, Amanda was also Hudson’s town assessor.
Throughout her life Amanda kept up with the local teams. Occasionally, she was coaxed out of ‘retirement’ and called a few baseball games until she was in her early 40s. She often played catch with her brother Hank’s sons. One of her nephews once recalled, “We used to run inside, pretending to get a drink of water, and instead put some sponge in our gloves because she threw so hard.”
After retiring from her job as a social worker, Amanda rarely missed a baseball game on the television or radio. She rooted for her favorite professional team – the Minnesota Twins. In 1964, she was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame. Amanda has also been recognized by the Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y. as well as by San Francisco’s Women’s Sports Foundation. She was only the second female to be inducted into the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame in 1982 – and the first baseball umpire. Amanda passed away in Sioux Falls on July 22, 1971. She left behind a rich sports legacy and unique achievements as “The Lady in Blue.”
“Woman as Umpire,” The Meriden Daily Journal, June 20, 1906.
“Girl Baseball Umpire,” Reading Eagle, June 29, 1906.
“Women Umpires May Save Sport,” The Pittsburgh Press, September 17, 1906.
“South Dakota Woman is Jack of All Trades,” Ludington Daily News, April 7, 1929.
“Baseball’s First Woman Umpire Dies,” Schenectady Gazette, July 22, 1971.
Robert Elias, ed. Baseball and the American Dream: Race, Class, Gender, and the National Pastime, New York: M.E. Sharpe, 2001.
Sharon L. Roan, “No One Yelled “kill the Ump” When Amanda Clement was a Man in Blue,” Sports Illustrated, April 5, 1982.
Tina Zayat, “She Made the Call,” National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, March 6, 2012.
Colin Kapitan, “Nobody Yelled Kill the Umpire!” SouthDakotaMagazine.com.