Elizabeth Falbisaner: The Face of Modern Athletic Women’s Basketball in the 1920s; Essay by Robert Pruter

To illustrate concept in text

Elizabeth Falbisaner, as captain for the famed Taylor Trunks,  represented to America, what modern athletic basketball for women could be during the Golden Age of Sports in the 1920s.

 

 

Elizabeth Falbisaner was one of the more significant basketball players in Chicago during the 1920s, competing for and serving as captain for the famed Taylor Trunks. By playing with the top team in Chicago that had achieved national fame, under the highly athletic men’s rule game, in trim male-style uniforms, Falbisaner became a prominent face of the modern athletic women that emerged after World War I. Her image was often wired to newspapers across the country, in her role as captain in the ritual of shaking hands with her opponent, who was male almost as often as female. As such, she showed much of the rest of the country–where women played a highly modified line-game—what modern women were capable of achieving athletically.

Elizabeth Falbisaner was born on October 17, 1906, on the near north side of Chicago to middle class parents of German and British heritage. Her father, Arthur F. Falbisaner, was a grocery store proprietor and later a salesman for a roofing firm. She had two siblings, Florence and Carol, neither whom apparently went into athletics. Chicago is officially divided up into communities, and the community Falbisaner grew up in was Lincoln Park.1

Falbisaner as an athletic 13-year-old in Chicago, which had many parks and playgrounds with instructors and directors, she had become engaged in a variety of sports and athletics, notably playground ball (early softball) and basketball.  In 1920 she was on the the Ogassiz Playground team that won the city playground ball (early softball) championship. In the fall of 1921, when the exciting game of basketball was rapidly growing in the city with girls, she joined with some neighborhood girls to form the Lake View Community Girls to play the men’s rules game. Chicago was one of the few pockets in the country where amateur women teams played using men’s rules. Much of the country, including the National AAU, played  the far less athletic and strenuous six-player line game, where the court was divided into three sections, with each team having two players in each section, one playing defense and one offense. A player did not leave her section, and the game was more a passing game, than running and dribbling.2

Her teammates were girls of like ages, 13 to 15 years old, notably Marie Curtin and Kitty Miller. Another top player, Dena Schaper, was not from the neighborhood and was much older, at 20 years. She came to the team along with her colleague or boyfriend  24 year old Harry Wilson, who was the young team’s coach. Marie Curtin became her closest teammate, where they went school together. The team was formed at the Lake View Community House, a social and recreation center that was a part of the Federated  Seminary Avenue Church, at Lill and Seminary streets in the Lake View Community.  Many members’ homes were located in the Lake View Community and the Lincoln Park Community just south of Lake View.3

Despite competing against much older teams, the first year the Lake View Community highly talented team won 11 games and lost 2, both to the Uptown Brownies. The following season, 1922-23, the Lake View Community Girls garnered a 15-2 record. The team would later become the famed Taylor Trunk Girls.4

To explain concept in text

Lake View Community Girls, 1925 champions; Elizabeth Falbisaner, top row, second from left. Her friend, Marie Curtin, is on top row, end left.

Several members of the Lake View Community team also attended Waller High School, the public school that served the Lincoln Park Community. In June 1924, for example, Falbisaner and her close teammate, Marie Curtin, both graduated from Waller.5

Falbisaner was a starting forward for the Lake View Community Girls as it emerged as the dominant team in Chicago in 1924, when they won the Central AAU women’s championship. They repeated in 1925. In the same two years, the team also won championships in the Interstate League, the circuit for the elite teams in Chicago. As Central AAU champs, Falbisaner was on the team when the team traveled in 1924 and 1925 to Edmonton, Alberta, to play the famed Commercial Grads for the Underwood Trophy. They lost all four games they contested against the Grads.6

In the 1925-26 season, Falbisaner and her Lake View Community teammates competed under the name Tri-Chi Girls. They began their season in December with a big international contest to play the Commercial Grads. It was a two-game challenge match, in which the Trunks lost both games, by big scores. But the team then swept through the regular season undefeated, taking their third Interstate League title and third Central AAU title, both in March of 1926. The following month, the team narrowly lost to the Commercial Grads of Edmonton, Canada, in a championship game played in Chicago, 19-17, a match significant enough for the Chicago Tribune gave the Tri-Chis-Grads game a huge spread.7

We can appreciate the highly athletic game Falbisaner was playing in 1926, on two reports in the Chicago Tribune, from the anonymous writer of the “In the Wake of the News” sports column and a feature on the game written by reporter Don Maxwell. The latter said, “Ten bob haired girls checked their power puffs and maidenly manners in the dressing rooms of the Broadway Armory last night, galloped out on the floor, and for forty minutes fought the rip roarinest battle 6,000 fans ever saw…the details of the game are not important. It was the battle between these dashing, squirming, pivoting, bob haired girls that thrilled the crowd.” The reporter seemed dazzled by the athleticism and sport skills of the women players. “In the Wake of the News” reporter noted that the girls seemed not to tire from exhaustion from the strenuous match, and closed with “If these teams ever play a return game here we want all basketball fans to take a slant at them. We’re no longer a skeptic.” With Falbisaner and her Tri-Chi Girls, women’s basketball had proved itself with the male sports fraternity as a highly athletic sport not damaging to women.8

To lillustrate concept in text

Taylor Trunks, 1927, Elizabeth Falbisaner, top row, second from right

In December 1926, Elizabeth Falbisaner with Marie Curtin were the center of an explosive break of the Taylor Trunks with the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU). The Central AAU barred Falbisaner and Curtin for reputedly being professionals. By the strict amateur standards of the day, the AAU deemed the two players, who had graduated from American College of Physical Education (ACPE), as being pros for their work as playground instructors for the Chicago Board of Education. The women after high school had taken the ACPE two-year physical education degree, and had just started in their playground jobs. With the AAU decision, the Taylor Trunks broke with the organization and played in no AAU-sanctioned competition. The team, now captained by Falbisaner, still opening for men’s pro games in the city, also hit the road as a barnstorming unit, for example, playing the Northwest Davenport Turner Girls in Iowa in early February. The team lost key intersectional games to the Commercial Grads and to the Cleveland Newman-Stearns. The team was significantly strengthened in March 1927, recruiting center Violet Krubaeck, who for the next several years was the team’s physically strongest player. In the following years, it appears, the team was able to compete on occasion with Chicago amateur teams.9

By the late 1920s, the newspapers and a scattering of women basketball teams playing the men’s rule game promoted the idea that a “national champion” could be declared, it a team from one of the several pockets in the northeastern section of the country beat all the teams in their home city, and then beat two or three teams from Detroit, Cleveland, Chicago, and possibly another city. The Taylor Trunks was engaged in this ritual yearly from 1926 through 1931.

To illlustrate concept in texxt

Elizabeth Falbisaner, 1928

In the 1927-28 season, Falbisaner was again captain of the team, a team that proclaimed itself the best woman’s basketball team in the United States (in the five-person men’s rules game went unsaid). She practically became the face of the team, as she was often shown in photos sent out over the wires nationwide with her shaking hands with the captain of the opposing team. One newspaper report on the Taylor Trunks from 1928 said “she is the star of the aggregation.” The season was marked by the Taylor Trunks march to the national championship, starting with a notable match up against the Detroit Nationals in Chicago at the Broadway Armory. The Taylor Trunks beat the team 32 to 9, with Falbisaner the top scorer with 14 points. Three weeks later at the Broadway Armory before 3,000 fans, Falbisaner was not a scoring factor when the Trunks beat the Cleveland Aces for the national championship of the United States according to the Chicago paper.10

Falbisaner and her teammates were finding that with their expulsion from AAU-competition for professionalism, which they disputed, were in fact now becoming professionals in fact, The Taylor Trunks as in the previous year sought outside competition, and a March 1928 game in Manitowac, Wisconsin was typical.  The Manitowac Follies Five promoter drew 1,000 fans by promoting the Taylor Trunks as United States champions.  Amateur basketball barnstorming teams would veer into semi-pro status by being paid “travel expenses,” but the Taylor Trunks by 1928 for the Follies Five game, was “receiving the largest guarantee ever paid a visiting team for performing here.”  When discussing guarantees, they were usually accompanied by a share of the gate.  The women were surely raking in more than travel expenses.11

Falbisaner, often using Falby as her last name, captained the Trunks to their best season during 1928-29. In early January, the Trunks again beat Cleveland in the first of a series. The Tribune reporter noted that the tight fitting boy’s outfits of the Trunks made the team look more athletic and modern than the Cleveland girls, who wore sleeved shirts, bloomers, and long stockings. Falbisaner, who the Tribune reporter said played a “brilliant” game, injured herself tearing several tendons in her ankle. By February, when the Trunks beat Cleveland in the second game in the championship series, Falbisaner was in the lineup, but was not much a scoring threat. In March of 1929, the Trunks, made a tour of Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut. In Ohio, the Trunks beat the Cleveland team twice. In Pennsylvania, the Trunks met the Scranton girls state champions, and swept them in a three-game series, on this basis claimed the national women’s basketball championship.12

To illustrate concept in text

ired photo of Captain Elizabeth Falbisaner shaking hands with Captain Elizabeth Wagemaker of Cleveland

By the 1929-30 season, the Taylor Trunks probably peaked at its national acclaim and success, hailed repeatedly as national champions (at the men’s game that was rarely mentioned). The team traveled all over the Midwest, defeating various state champions, and played host to London, Ontario, at the Broadway Armory, to defeat all opposition. The Trunks also met and beat the Cleveland Allerton Aces six times throughout the season. Reports of the Taylor Trunks games were regularly distributed nationally by the wire services, and the last match between the Trunks and the Aces was promoted showing Captain Elizabeth Falby (as she now regularly called herself) and the Aces captain, Elizabeth Wagemaker, shaking hands before the big game.13

Falbisaner played her most significant game of her career when the Trunks played two matches against the Commercial Grads before 7,000 fans at Edmonton in early May, 1930, for the Underwood Trophy. – So highly that the Chicago felt about its women basketball players, that the Chicago City Council passed a resolution directing that Falbisaner and Curtin be given a ten-day leave from their playground jobs with pay to compete in Edmonton. The Trunks amazingly beat the Grads in the first game, 34-24, a tremendous achievement for the team, as in the entire history of the Underwood  Trophy from 1923 to 1940 the Grads had only lost two games. The Trunks, however, lost the second game, 40-13, and under the rules then the winner was determined by the two-game score total. Falbisaner was now rarely a scoring threat, but her floor sense as a guard was tremendous in helping her teammates score.14

To illustrate concept in text

Elizabeth Falbisaner, 1930

Falbisaner continued to serve as captain and face of the Taylor Trunks during the 1930-31 season. She was one of three original players—the other two being Dena Schaper and Marie Curtin—that made the Trunks such a formidable outfit. One game in particular elicited national attention, when in early January 1931 the Taylor Trunks met the House of David team, which had beaten them several times before, The House of David was a religious commune from Benton Harbor, Michigan, and was best known for its traveling baseball teams. The religion required the men to sport beards and grow their hair long. In the January game, before 5,000 fans who jammed the Broadway Armory, the Trunks whipped the House of David team, 18 to 9. Reports of the game were wired across the United States, exclaiming the athleticism of the Taylor Trunks and having fun reporting on the rough tactics of the girls. Also transmitted was a photo of Falbisaner shaking hands with the House of David captain, Pop Tucker, before the game. The Taylor Trunks ended their season playing an old rival, the Jewish People’s Institute Girls, and they prevailed.15

Falbisaner by the end of the 1930-31 season was finished with competitive basketball, at least for a few years. She was still employed by the Chicago Board of Education, serving as playground supervisor, along with her friend and teammate Marie Curtin. She might have been dissatisfied with the direction the team was going. Because of the AAU ban, the Trunks by this time were unabashed professionals, and were regularly playing boys and men’s teams to fill out its schedule. Interviewed before her death in 1994, former Taylor Trunk player Hazel Kelfstrom said, “When I played it was during the Depression. We were paid $10 a game against the men, and that was good. When I went to work, I got $10 a week.” Kelfstrom was a 16-year old sophomore at Roosevelt High School, when she was recruited by the Taylor Trunks in 1929. The Taylor Trunks disbanded in January 1934.16

Falbisaner returned to competitive basketball, when in October 1933 she joined the Red Devils team that went up to Edmonton, Canada, to compete against the Commercial  Grads to compete for the Underwood Trophy. Harry Wilson formed the team from basically the Six Point Co-eds from the year before, and it included two other former Taylor Trunks Violet Krubaeck and Dena Schaper. The team lost all three of the march games, and then proceeded into the 1934 regular season to compete as the Rickett’s Restaurants Girls. The Rickett’s Girls won the American Tournament title in March 1934, which that year was equivalent to the city championship. The Central AU tournament was oddly played under women’s rules, and Rickett’s Girls did not participate. With the Rickett’s Girls’ American Tournament title win over the formidable Spencer Coals, 19-17, Falbisaner finally retired (unfortunately she scored no points).17

In November 1936, Falbisaner, long away from her basketball career and firmly ensconced with as a playground instructor with the Chicago Board of Education, got married. The gentleman’s name was Leonard C. Double, a blue color worker, employed as a shipping clerk, later a telegraph operator. The marriage did not last long, because in the 1940 census Falbisaner was living with her mother and her married sister. She was still employed as a playground instructor. She does not appear to have ever remarried.18

Falbisaner in the decades after World War II  besides her work as a playground supervisor, also served as an official in the Central AAU, the organization that banned her in her youth.  In 1956, as a member of the Central AAU registration committee, she voted to ban a wrestler from competing in the Olympics, because he could not prove two 400-dollar payments to him for valid work for his coaching duties and not for his appearance at meets. Ironically, Falbisaner in her day competed for the Taylor Trunks and received a lot funny money for her travel expenses, and only got in trouble with the Central AAU for working as a playground instructor. Falbisaner was recognized in 1965 for her lifetime of work for the AAU by receiving from the national organization the annual Outstanding Woman of the Year given for community and recreation work.19

In 1973, Falbisaner ended her 46-year career in the Chicago Board of Education as a playground supervisor, also ending her career in the AAU. She retired to Largo, Florida. On December 27, 1997, Falbisaner died in Dunedin, Florida, at the age of 91. Her death went unnoticed in her hometown of Chicago, but received a three sentence notice that mentioned her career as a playground supervisor but made no mention of her playing with the Taylor Trunks.20

Notes

1. Thirteenth Census of the United States 1910–Population, Bureau of the Census, Illinois, Cook County, Chicago, Ward 25; Enumeration District: 1100, Sheet 3B (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1982); Fourteenth Census of the United States 1920–Population; Bureau of the Census, Illinois, Cook County, Chicago, Ward 40, Enumeration District: 1327; Sheet 3A (Washington, DC, National Archives and Records Administration, 1992).

2.  Harland Rohm, “Tri Chi Girls Win 159 Games; Lose Only Four,” Chicago Tribune, 1 January 1927;  “Women Activities: Chicago Girls Are Saying Little But Are Preparing to Walk Away with the Trophy,”  Edmonton Journal, 25 October 1927.

3.  “Fast Girl Basketball Teams in Game Tonight,” Chicago Tribune they, 16 Oct 1923; Oney Fred Sweet, “Church Merger Started in 1919;  Oney Fred Sweet,  “Church Merger Started in 1919 Is Completed,” Chicago Tribune, 1 September 1929.

4.  Harland Rohm, “Tri Chi Girls Win,” 1 January 1927; Harland Rohm, “194 Games Won and 9 Lost; That’s the Trunks’ 8 Year Record,” Chicago Tribune, 7 December 1929.

5.  “High School Grads Get Diplomas,” Chicago Tribune, 23 June 1924.

6.  “L. V. Girls and Cornells Win C.A.A.U. Titles,” Chicago Tribune, 30 March 1924; “Commercial Grads Retain Cage Title,” Manitoba Free Press, 16 May 1924; “Underwood International Trophy Games,’ Edmonton Grads 25 Years of Basketball Championships, 1915-1940, Montreal: Royal Bank of Canada, 1995.

7.  “Tri-Chi Girls Again Win Interstate Cage Title,” Chicago Tribune, 11 March 1926; M. Ann Hall, The Grads Are Playing: The Story of the Edmonton Commercial Graduates Basketball Club (Edmonton, Alberta: University of Alberta Press, 2011), pp. 272-73.

8.  Don Maxwell, “Girls War Like Amazons on Basket Floor,” Chicago Tribune, 6 April 1926; “In the Wake of the News,” Chicago Tribune, 7 April 1926.

9.  Harland Rohm, “Girl Basketball Teams Hurl War Threats at A.A.U.,” Chicago Tribune, 23 December 1926; “Midwest Cage Players Break with C.A.A.U.,” Chicago Tribune, 1 January 1927; “Here They Are, Fans! These Girls Have Won 145 Games in Five Years and Lost Only One,” Davenport Democrat and Leader, 3 February 1927.”

10.  “Unique Court Program at Coliseum Thursday Night Tops Week’s Sport Bill,” Davenport Democrat and Leader, 22 January 1928; “Taylor Trunks Swamp Detroit Nationals, 32-9,” Chicago Tribune, 5 February 1928; “Taylor Trunks Win U.S. Girls’ Basket Title,” Chicago Tribune, 24 February 1928.

11.  “Dancing Their Way to Cage Title” , Manitowac Herald-News, 10 March 1928.

12.  Harland Rohm, “Chicago Girls’ Basketball Team Defeats Cleveland Quintet; Retains U.S. Title,” Chicago Tribune, 3 January 1929; Harlan Rohm, “194 Games;.”Harland Rohm, “Taylor Trunks Are 2 Up on the Allertons,” Chicago Tribune, 25 February 1929;   “Taylor Trunks Defeat May & Malone, 11 to 3,” Chicago Tribune, 13 March 1929; “Trunks Beat Cleveland in Final, 16 to 9,” Chicago Tribune, 29 March 1929. “Taylor Quntet (sic) Beats Scranton Girls in Final,” Chicago American, 1 April 1929.

13.  “Taylor Trunks Defeat Indianapolis Girls,” Chicago Tribune, 13 January 1930; “Taylor Trunks Defeat Cleveland Aces, 15 to 8,´Chicago Tribune, 28 January 1930; “Trunks Beat Cleveland in 2nd Title Game, 11-9,” Chicago Tribune, 29 January 1930; “Taylor Trunks Defeat London Team, 23-22,” Chicago Tribune, 13 February 1930; Wilfred Smith, “Bruins Beat Patterson, 24-17; “Taylor Trunks Win, 20-16,” Chicago Tribune, 6 March 1930; Wilfred Smith, “Bruins Whip Patterson, 27-12; Taylor Trunks Beat Cleveland, 25-15,” Chicago Tribune, 7 March 1930; Se Dan Las Manos Antes De La Lucha , Tiempo Larado, 17 April 1930.

14.  “Leaves of Absence, with Pay, to Certain Employees  of  the Bureau of Parks,” Journal of the Proceedings of the City Council of the City of Chicago, Illinois, Regular Meeting, Wednesday, April 9 1930, Chicago: Chicago City Council, 1930; “Canadians Beat Taylor Trunks to Win Trophy,” Chicago Tribune, 6 May 1930;  Hall, p. 280.

15.  “Samson Myth Exploded” , Daily News Standard, 13 January 1931; “Girls Basketball Team Outclasses Bewhiskered House of David Squad: Loganport Pharos Tribune, 8 January 1931; “Taylor Trunks Defend Record Against J.P.I.,” Chicago Tribune, 9 April 1931; “Trunks Beat J.P.I. Girls in Last Half,” Chicago Tribune, 10 April 1931.

16.  “Wilfred Smith, “Bruin Quintet Beats Purdue Stars, 24 to 23,” Chicago Tribune, 4 April 1932; 30. “Gabby Harnett to Preside Tonight at Dundee Social,” Chicago Tribune, 25 January 1934;   “Five Games on Card Tonight in District Meet,” Chicago Tribune, 1 March 1934; “Hazel Johnson, 87 –Female Basketball Player Who Turned Pro at Age 16,” Chicago Tribune, 8 October 2001.

17.  “Triumph in Third Battle,” Lethbridge Herald, 31 October 1933, “Hail District Cage Champs,Chicago American, 12 March 1934.

18.  Elizabeth J. Falbisaner, Illinois, Cook County Marriages, 1871-1920 [https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:Q21K-TRKC], accessed 20 October 2019; Sixteenth Census of the United States: 1940 Population Schedule, Bureau of the Census, Illinois, Cook County, Chicago, Ward 40, Enumeration District 163-2431, Sheet 7B (Washington, DC, National Archives and Records Administration, 2012).

19.  John Leusch, A.A.U. Bans Smith, Rules Wrestler Out of Olympics,” Chicago Tribune, 23 August 1956; “Awards: Community Sports and Recreation Awards,”   The Amateur Athletic Union, The Real AAU Convention, 2019 [http://convention.aausports.org/Awards/CommunitySportsandRecreationAward.aspx].

20.  “Elizabeth J Falbisaner,” United States Public Records, 1970-2009 [https://www.familysearch.org/ark:/61903/1:1:KGB3-GM8], accessed 20 October 2019; “Obituaries,” St. Petersburg Times, 3 January 1998.

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4 Responses to Elizabeth Falbisaner: The Face of Modern Athletic Women’s Basketball in the 1920s; Essay by Robert Pruter

  1. Pingback: The Legendary Taylor Trunks Rules Women’s Amateur Basketball in Chicago, Breaking Boundaries on Women Athletic Achievement; Essay by Robert Pruter | The World of Early Amateur & Youth Sports in Chicago

  2. Pingback: Harry Wilson and Dena Schaper: Chicago Husband and Wife Team, A Driving Force For Women’s Basketball, Women’s Softball, and other Amateur Sports , 1921-1954; Essay by Robert Pruter | The World of Early Amateur & Youth Sports in Chicago

  3. Pingback: Harry Wilson and Dena Schaper: Chicago Husband and Wife Team, A Driving Force For Women’s Basketball, Women’s Softball, and other Amateur Sports, 1921-1954; Essay by Robert Pruter | The World of Early Amateur & Youth Sports in Chicago

  4. Pingback: Top Basketball Player Hazel Kelfstrom: The Poster Child of Highly Commercialized Amateur Basketball in Chicago in the 1930s: Essay by Robert Pruter | The World of Early Amateur & Youth Sports in Chicago

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