Dorothy “Boots” Klupping: The Face of Early Chicago Women’s Softball; Essay by Robert Pruter

Dorothy Klupping, an ace pitcher in the Chicago women softball leagues, was a nationally famous star in the early years of women’s softball.

Dorothy “Boots” Klupping, a diminutive pitcher with an amazingly fast delivery, competed with the dominant women teams in Chicago during the late 1930s.  With her exuberant personality and contentious spirit, Klupping drew attention of both the local and the national media, and became the face of women’s elite softball in Chicago.

George and Clara Klupping, a working class family from the Chicago western suburb of Maywood, welcomed in the new year with the birth of their third child, Dorothy. who was born on January 1, 1918.  Her parents, of German and Dutch extraction, had lived in the largely working and middle class community of Maywood from at least 1910, having a daughter and a son before Dorothy came along.  The community was filled with many employees who worked for the huge Continental Can Company factory complex, which employed thousands.  George, who did not work for the can company, like so many of his neighbors, worked as a truck driver.1

Dorothy Klupping grew up in Maywood, where she attended grade school and high school, and was always an athletic girl. She received her first notices in the local newspaper at the age of 14, when she was reported as the girl winner of the Maywood park district’s ping  pong tournament.  At Proviso High School, she was a highly active student in club and athletic activities. Clubs were huge in the high schools during this time, and Klupping was a busy girl, participating in Latin Club, History  Club, Senior Science Club, College Club, the student newspaper, yearbook, Dancers Club, and Senior Life Saving. 

In athletics, Girls Athletic Associations (GAAs), reflecting the non-competitive philosophy of high school physical educators of day, limited Klupping to competition intramually and with other schools to play days.  Among the sports Proviso offered was baseball (what high schools called softball then). volleyball, basketball, ping-pong, hockey, and soccer  The yearbook reports her serving as basketball manager and winning the Hockey Award, but what other sports Klupping participated in is unknown. In GAA, she was one of the leaders, serving on the GAA Board. She was one of four female athletes listed in school’s who’s who in the yearbook.2

During her high school years, Klupping participated in track and field (a sport considered too taxing for girls by physical educators) during the summers in the park district of a nearby community, Oak Park. The summer after graduating from Proviso, she performed unusually well in the big Oak Park meet of all its parks. Klupping, in the senior class (open to high school age students) was the big winner for her park, She won the 50 yard dash, third in broad jump, third in   baseball throw, She was noted as one of the competitors who stood out (in field). The Oak Park park district also had competition in softball for girls, but she did not participate, which is what she told interviewers years later. 

Klupping entered MacMurry College in downstate Jacksonville in the fall of 1935, majoring in physical education.  As a sophomore she joined the school paper and became its sports reporter. Her junior year she was accepted in the modern dance club. College educators, at the time under the thrall of separate domains, believed that women were not emotionally and physically suited to engage in competitive sports intercollegiately. If MacMurry had a softball team,  competition would only be done intramurally. Klupping probably competed in softball only in the summers between school terms.3

Klupping, who in interviews said her father and brother were both in semi-pro baseball, was influenced by them to take up softball at an early age. In interviews she had repeatedly reported that she was engaged in competitive softball in Chicago for some thirteen years, a career that ended in 1945. She also claimed to have begun “pitching in earnest” in 1931.   Yet she says during her high school years she competed only in track and field.  Her name as a softball player does not come up in local community papers until 1936, when she was a member of a top team.  In all probability, the lack of any name recognition any earlier than 1936 could merely mean she was not yet that accomplished and played on low level softball teams of little note.4

By the summer of 1936, Klupping was playing as a member of the Parichy-Ford Roofers, an elite team competing against the best teams in the Chicago area. Especially notable was her win against the Alamo Theater Girls, which in a pitching duel against the great Catherine Fellmeth, won the game 3-1. The game was played before 4,000 fans eager to see the two pitchers, indicative of the popularity of women’s softball at this time. The Parichy team which would later become the Parichy Bloomers Girls, were located in neighboring community Forest Park, and Klupping was one of many graduates from Proviso High who played on the team.5

In 1937, Klupping had joined the best women’s softball team in the Chicago area, the Montgomery Vee-Eights. sponsored by a Ford car dealership,  The previous year the Vee-Eights had won the American Tournament and took second in the nation in the ASA national softball championship. The 1937 team was probably just as good or better, with the recruitment of Klupping in the lineup. Klupping was developing a reputation for a superfast fast ball.  The Vee-Eights won the Chicago American’s city fast-pitch championship  to qualify for the ASA national championship, but the Klupping-enhanced team did not advance beyond the second round.6

In 1938, Klupping, still attending MacMurry College, was a member of another elite team, the Down Draft Furnace Girls, who drew Klupping and several other players from the defunct Montgomery Vee-Eights team. By this time Klupping had earned the nickname, “Boots.”  The team became the champion of the Metropolitan tournament in August, and won the right to compete in American Softball Association national tournament in September. The team behind the stellar pitching of Klupping took second in the nation, losing the ASA title game to the J. J. Kriegs of Alameda, California. Klupping by this time was probably the best pitcher in the highly competitive Chicago area. She was subject in a promotion to showcase her skills, by having her pitch against a group of Major League players from the White Sox team.  She struck out one of them.7

Klupping competed again for the Down Drafts in 1939, and by this time was nationally known.  One photo of her in June, in a dramatic pitching pose, appeared in newspapers across the country, captioned with the title, “Burns’ ‘Em In.”  The photo showed Klupping in a dramatic pitching pose, made more dramatic by her four inch high hair for height enhancement. The longer caption raved that Boots  “is rated as one of the nation’s best feminine softball chuckers.  She throws a ball as fast as topnotch men pitchers.”  Klupping again led the Down Drafts to the national tournament after winning the American Tournament and then the ASA Metropolitan Tournament to earn a place in the national tournament for the second year in a row.  The Down Drafts, however, only made it to the quarterfinals.8

In 1940, Klupping’s team, the Down Drafts, changed sponsorship to the Hydrox Beverage Company.  She may have had a down year that season, because I found no reports that year mentioning Klupping on the team (the following year there were some references to her being on the team}.  One local paper in a small profile on the Hydrox Beverage Girls made no mention of Klupping and noted that the Marge Startz was the “leading hurdler” on the team. None the less, Klupping was again on a championship team for the third year in a row, as the Hydrox Girls went on to win the revived Girls Major Softball League title.  Klupping, despite the slippage in her career, was a nationally famous pitcher, and was approached in 1940 for an interview by nationally known sportswriter Herb Graffis.9        

Herb Graffis was preparing an essay on the women’s softball scene, which was published in June, most probably in a magazine. He was most taken with the spirited personality little five foot firecracker, with her over the top boastfulness, sounding an awful lot like Babe Didrikson from a some years earlier. Graffis said of her,

On the field Boots has a histrionic range from Baby Snooks to the Queen of the Amazons, with Charlotte Corday and La Passionara, firebrand of the Spanish loyalists, tossed in for seasoning…Boots will walk into her team’s dressing room before a game and still the nervous chatter of her compatriots by remarking, “them tramps ain’t got a chance. They can’t hit me.” That, of course, is hearsay from her teammates, as this investigator has not been in the dressing room of a ladies’ softball team. But what she does do before the naked eyes of the multitude is plenty to reveal performing color.

Graffis’s essay covered women’s softball nationwide, and he covered two Chicago pitchers, Catherine Fellmeth as well as Klupping.   But of all his profiles he gave Klupping more real estate than any other softball player.10  

Klupping,  after three years with the same top team (Downdrafts/Hydrox) , in 1941 joined a Forest Park team, the Parichy Bloomer Girls, a descendent of the Parichy Roofers, which she had joined in 1936 that started her significant softball career. The Parichy Bloomer Girls had won the Chicago American Tournament in the previous year, and with Klupping in the lineup was hoping to repeat.  Indeed they did, the last championship that she had the pleasure to be associated with.11

Klupping finished college and began teaching school. She married one of her fellow Proviso graduates from 1935,  Fred J. Ortman, in August 1941. Like Klupping, Ortman was an athlete, on the Proviso swimming and track teams.  At the time of the marriage he was in the Army and the couple was married close to where he was stationed. When United States entered World War II in December, Ortman was in the Army until the end of the war.12 

Dorothy Ortman in 1944 joined the Racine Belles, from Racine, Wisconsin, one of the teams in Philip Wrigley’s All-American Girls Professional Athletic League.  The league played a modified form of baseball that was closer to baseball than softball, and the defending champions Belles recruited Ortman based on her huge reputation as a softball player, who according to the Racine Journal Times¸ was “regarded as the best amateur hurdler in the Windy City for five years.”  That evaluation sounds about right.13

Ortman did not adjust to the tougher competition of the AAGPAL, only allowed to pitch in only 15 games, with a 6-8 record out of some 180 games.  Her batting average was only .058.  Ortman tried several other times to break into softball and baseball leagues, playing with teams in Memphis; Waycross, Georgia. and the Tungsten Sparks of the National Girls Baseball League (NGBL), but never staying long. The NPBL, formed in 1944, despite “National” in its title, was a local Chicago professional league that grew out of the same softball scene where Klupping achieved her fame.14

In 1957, Klupping joined the Palatine school district, and teaching in the third and fourth grades. She and her husband retained their sports interest, becoming a husband-wife team, Fred as manager and Dorothy as a coach in the local Little League program.  Long a breeder of dogs, particularly boxers, she devoted the remainder of her life as a trainer and breeder of dogs.  She became a widow rather early, at age 46 in 1964, when her husband died, also at age 46. She never remarried.  She lost her son in 1968 to an automobile accident.  Dorothy Klupping Ortman died on May 1, 1993, at the age of 75, only one year after her retirement from the Palatine school district (after 34 years of service). Klupping on her death was well memorialized by the Daily Herald, a major paper in the  northwest suburbs of Chicago. She ranks as one of the top Chicago players in the 1930s and 1940s when softball was at its height, developing a national reputation.15

 

Footnotes

1.  Fourteenth Census of the United States: 1920–Population, Bureau of the Census, Illinois, Cook County, Proviso Township, Village of Maywood, Enumeration District 194, Sheet 14. (Washington, DC:  National Archive and Records Administration, 1920);  Official Website of the AAGPBL “Dorothy Klupping (Ortman),”  AAGPBL  [http://www.aagpbl.org/index.cfm/profiles/klupping-dorothy-ortman/519]  accessed  29 March 2018.

2.  The Provi 1934 (Maywood, IL: Proviso Township High School, 1934), pp.  64, 96, 110;   The Provi 1935 (Maywood, IL: Proviso Township High School, 1935), pp.  44-45, 101.

3. “Summer Program on Playgrounds Finished Today,” The Herald, 5 August 1932;  “August to Be a Big Month for Playgrounds; Track Results,” Oak Leaves, 18 July 1935.

4.  “Our Town,” Chicago Tribune,  18 October 1936;  “Society,” Jacksonville Daily Journal, 12 November 1937.

5.  Paul Logan,  “Dorothy Always Was A Hall of Famer,” The Herald, 1972.

6. “Parichy Roofers Play Good Ball;  Takes 2 Out of 3,” Forest Park Review¸14 August 1936.

7.  “V-Eights Top Card in Softball,” Chicago Herald and Examiner, 25 August 1936; “Dorothy Ortman Inducted Into ASA’s Hall of Fame,” The Herald¸ 13 September 1972.  It is unclear which local title Vee-Eights won in 1937, as the August issues of  the Chicago American are missing.

8. “Waggoner Girls to Battle Drafts,”  Southtown Economists 26 May 1938;  “Rival Girls Meet Softball City Champs,” Garfieldian, 1 September 1938.   “Start Play for Softball Title Tonight,” Chicago Tribune, 7 September 1938, Leo Fischer, “Cincinnati, Alameda Gain Softball Titles,” Chicago American,  16 September 1938;  Catherine Edman,  “Ballplayer was in League of Her Own,” Daily Herald, 12 May 1993.

9.  “Burns ‘Em In,”  Bakersfield Californian, 15 June 1939;  “Start Softball Finals August 8,” Chicago American, 31 July 1939; “Play Drafts Tonight,” Chicago Tribune, 19 August 1939; “Play Three Games Tonight in District Softball Meet,” Chicago Tribune, 13 August 1939;   “Down Drafts and Pohlars Lose in Softball Meet,” Chicago Tribune, 10 September 1939.

10. .”Softball Notes,” Auburn Parker, 24 July 1940; “Sherbridge Field Sets Tops Sports Bill for Sunday,” Southtown Economist, 11 June  1941;   

11.  Herb Graffis, “Belles of the Ball, Esquire’s First Sports Reader, edited by Herbert Graffis (New York: A. S. Barnes, 1945), pp. 163-64.

12.  “Crown Final Champs Amid Thrills,” Chicago Herald-American, 18 August 1940,” Chi “Parichy Girls Bid for League Lead,”  Oak Leaves,  5 June 1941;  “Softballers End Tourney,” Chicago Herald-American,  2 September 1941.

13.  The Provi 1934 (Maywood, IL:: Proviso Township High School,  1934), p. 108;. The Provi 1935 (Maywood, IL: Proviso Township High School,  1935),  p. 117; “Alabama County Marriages, 1809-1950,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:VZK3-14F  4 November 2017),  Fred J Ortman and Dorothy G Klupping, 02 Aug 1941; citing Madison, Alabama, United States, county courthouses, Alabama; FHL microfilm 1,993,770.

14.  “1944 Belles Squad Arrive in Racine for Opener with Kenosha Saturday,”  Racine Journal Times, 25 May 1944. 

15.  “Dorothy Klupping Signs Contract with Tungsten,” Chicago Tribune, 22 May 1945;  “Official Website of the AAGPBL”

16.  “Atkinson Photo Service Salutes Palatine Little League Red Legs,” Arlington Heights Herald, 28 August 1958.  Catherine Edman,  “Ballplayer was in League of Her Own,” Daily Herald, 12 May 1993;  Paul Logan,  “Dorothy Always;”  “Frederick Ortman,” United States Social Security Death Index,

 

 

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