Edith Houghton (1912-2013)
First woman hired to be a scout for a major league baseball team
Edith Houghton was 10 years old when she became the starting shortstop for the Philadelphia Bobbies, the top women’s baseball team in the city. The rest of the team was comprised of young women ages 16 and older. (At that time, however, male players were used to pitch and catch during games.)
The Bobbies, so called because team members all sported “bobbed hair,” competed in a league that predated the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.
Grew Up Playing Baseball
Houghton learned the game early. She was the youngest of 10 children, and her father had played semiprofessional baseball, so he taught his children to play when they were young. Edith excelled at the sport.
In 1925, when Edith was 13, the Bobbies were invited to Japan to play against the Japanese men’s teams. The Bobbies traveled across the United States by train, playing exhibition games against local teams in order to pay for their travels. Once on the west coast, they boarded a ship for Japan, and the crossing took 13 days. Many years later, Houghton told a reporter that she did not remember much from the trip because she was so young, but she did remember the huge crowds that came out to see what a woman’s baseball team looked like.
When she returned to the U.S. she played for other women’s teams including the NY Bloomer Girls and the Hollywood Girls, but by the mid-1930s, the baseball opportunities for women disappeared as the popularity of the men’s game grew exponentially because games could be followed on radio. In order to play at all, Edith had to switch to softball, a less desirable alternative in her opinion.
During World War II, Houghton enlisted in the Navy Women’s Auxiliary unit, the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), where she had duties as a naval supply officer but could also play on a Navy-sponsored women’s baseball team.
After World War II
When the war was over, Houghton returned to Philadelphia and worked for a hardware company and followed the local teams.
The Philadelphia Phillies were at the bottom of their league, and Houghton took it upon herself to visit Robert Carpenter, the team president, without an appointment. Whether Carpenter hired her because of her impressive scrapbook of clippings, or whether he simply figured they had nowhere to go but up, he gave her a chance and hired Houghton as team scout. She worked for the Phillies for almost six years (1946-51) while continuing her “day job” at the hardware company.
During her first season of scouting she also served as part of the 1946 All-American Board of the National Baseball Congress. The board, comprised of major league scouts, selects the best major league prospects in the U.S.
In 1951 with the U.S entering the Korean War, she was called up by the Navy. She continued to serve until 1964 when she retired to Sarasota, Florida.
In 2005 an interview with Edith Houghton appeared in the Herald Tribune (Sarasota). At that time she was 93 and still drove, still took her dog for walks, and of course, still watched baseball.
In February of 2013 she died at age 100. In her obituary in The New York Times (2/15/2013) , Frank Marcos, senior director of the Major League Baseball Scouting Bureau, noted that in addition to being one of the first women to scout baseball players (there was one other woman who preceded her; Bessie Largent worked in tandem with her spouse to scout for the Chicago White Sox), Edith Houghton appears to have thus far been the last.
Certainly this will change over time.