The Taylor Trunks, the top women’s basketball team in Chicago during the 1920s and 1930s, exemplified the most modern and advanced approach in women’s basketball while negotiating with retrograde societal elements that fought female progress in sports.
The Taylor Trunks team is by far the best known of all the women’s amateur and semi-professional teams that competed in Chicago during the 1920s and 1930s. The “Trunks,” as they were popularly known, along with the Uptown Brownies and Jewish People’s Institute Girls, made up an elite trio that regularly vied for the city championship. The team was the preeminent representative of Chicago-style women’s basketball to the world—athletic, aggressive, and full of spit and vinegar—the product of playing under men’s rules. In much of the rest of the country, women teams played the more tame 6-player line moderated game. The court was divided into three sections, with each team having one defensive and one offensive player confined in each section. The mostly passing game was less athletic than the men’s rules game. The Taylor Trunks encapsulated modern womanhood by helping to pioneer trim men’s-style uniforms (ending bulky middies and bloomers) and leading the way to using players who were married and mothers. Expelled by the AAU for professionalism, the Taylor Trunks in the second half of their career pursued a highly visible program of barnstorming and again breaking barriers by playing men’s teams, drawing large audiences wherever they played and making news across the nation.
The Trunks were founded in the fall of 1921 as the Lake View Community Girls at the Lake View Community Center, located at Lill and Seminary in the Lincoln Park Community! The name suggests a settlement house and reporters sometimes referred to “house” as well as “center.” But there is no evidence of any such organization outside of the team. Also mysterious is that the name refers to the Chicago community just north of Lincoln Park Community, yet several girls lived in Lincoln Park just blocks from their ”center.” In any case, the girls were organized into an amateur club team, with unknown sponsorship, and a name that wrongly suggests its location. Most of the time reporters just referred to the girls as the Lake View Community team or girls.1
The original team ranged in age from 14 to 20 years old, and notably included Marie Curtin, Kitty Miller, Elizabeth Falbisaner, and Dena Schaper, the four players who remained with the team for years after their founding. Schaper was the oldest of the team members, a twenty-year old immigrant born in Netherlands in 1901. Like most all the amateur women basketball teams in the city, the Lake View Community Girls had a male coach, Harry Wilson, who eventually married Schaper, The first year they won 11 games and lost 2, both to the Uptown Brownies. The following season, 1922-23, the team garnered a 15-2 record.2
The Lake View Community Girls 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, the Lake View Community Girls traveled in 1924 and 1925 to Edmonton, Alberta, to play the famed Edmonton Grads for the Underwood Trophy, symbolic of the North American championship. They all four games contested against the Grads by significant margins. The Edmonton Grads during the 1920s and 1930s played the men’s rule game far better than any other team in North America, and never loss the Underwood Trophy.3
In the 1925-26 season, under the name Tri-Chi Girls, they began their season in December with a big international contest to play the Edmonton Grads. It was a two-game challenge match, in which the Trunks lost both games. 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, on April 5, 1926, the team narrowly lost to the Edmonton Grads in a non-championship game played in Chicago, 19-17, the closeness of the match indicative how the Chicago Tribune gave the Tri-Chis–Edmonton game a huge spread.4
The Tri-Chis, within six months of becoming the Taylor Trunks, with this contest against the Edmonton Grads, established women’s amateur basketball as a viable spectator sport in Chicago, changing the environment whereby many people did not think women should be playing sports, especially in front of men. Educators were regularly railing against the amateur women’s game in Chicago as inimical to development of proper womanhood. Biologically they believed that women were not physically and emotionally able to play in highly athletic sports. Some of the public questioned the femininity of women playing by aggressive men’s rules in which grabbing and snatching and running and pushing were a part of the game. Opponents were also absolutely appalled at such commercial spectacles as amateur women teams playing in the Broadway Armory before mostly male audiences. And many men did not think much of women as athletes.5
The Chicago Tribune reporter Don Maxwell opened his story on the game with, “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.6
In the Tribune’s next day sports column, the columnist who attended the game with the Tribune reporter reflected the attitudes of the almost universally male sportswriters fraternity in the city in his highly favorable discussion of the women’s game in Chicago:
In appearance the girls were attractive and decidedly not of the ‘hard boiled’ variety. We expected the girls to slow up from exhaustion, but they stood it better than most boys’ teams and seldom took time out except for bumps. We do not know what after effect such strenuous and nervous physical exercise has for girls, but Principal Page of the Edmonton [Grads], accompanying the team, asserts no ill effects have been observed in twelve years of play. 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.7
In the fall of 1926, the T.J. Taylor Company, a Chicago manufacturer of travel trunks, began sponsoring the Tri-Chi Girls, and the new name of the team became the Taylor Trunks Tri-Chis, then simply Taylor Trunks. The Tri-Chis actually was the third women’s basketball team that came under the company’s sponsorship. T. J. Taylor had been sponsoring women’s basketball teams back in the 1923-24 season, and was a typical industrial team, with players taken from the workforce of the company. In the 1925-26 season, the company took over sponsorship of the famed Brownies, but its sponsorship only lasted one season before Taylor began its sponsorship of the Tri-Chis. Ignoring seven previous losses to the Edmonton Grads, the Chicago Tribune in 1927 reported that since its inception in 1921 the team had won 159 games and lost only four.8
In December 1926, the Taylor Trunks came under the cloud of the Central AAU, which barred two of the team’s top players, Elizabeth Falbisaner and Marie Curtin, for 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, as being pros for their work as playground instructors. With the AAU decision, rather than drop Falbisaner and Curtin the Taylor Trunks decided to break with the organization, meaning that they could no longer play in AAU-sanctioned competition. The team, while still opening for men’s pro games in the city, hit the road as a barnstorming unit, for example, playing the Northwest Davenport Turner Girls in Iowa in early February.9
The team entered the 1926-27 season without one of their original players and captain, Kitty Miller, who retired for one year. The team was weakened, but in mid-February, 1927, the Trunks significantly strengthened their lineup with the addition of Violet Krubaeck. She had already made a name for herself playing for the Welles Park Royal Arrows, and was a track and field star of considerable achievement. The strong rangy player took over as center from Marie Curtin, who moved over to forward. Krubaeck as the new center was not enough for the Trunks to keep from being defeated by the Cleveland Aces for the national championship in February. Women national championships in the men’s rules game, was determined by a series of match play by a cities in the northeast section of the country, notably Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland, built on claims by the contesting teams.10
By this time in Chicago, amateur women’s basketball was a pretty big deal. Contests among the top teams and with out of town teams from the Midwest and Canada received fairly be write-ups in the local newspapers. The Taylor Trunks as the top team in Chicago got more than its share of ink. In one of their many games in the Broadway Armory, the Trunks beat the London, Ontario, team prior to a Chicago Bruins-Fort Wayne professional men’s game in January 1927. In the Tribune report on the night, which drew 4,000 fans, it was the Trunks-London game that was headlined and was the main story. In April, the Trunks met the Edmonton Grads in a non-championship contest, and lost by a most respectable score, 23-17. These kinds of games received much greater coverage in the 1920s than what the top college and top pro women teams in Chicago receive by the press and media in the current era.11
The Taylor Trunks were allowed by the Central AAU to compete against AAU teams in the 1927-28 season, but only in competition in the Middle States Girls’ Basketball League. This arrangement allowed the Trunks to meet their biggest Chicago rivals, the Brownies. At the end of February, the Taylor Trunks beat the Brownies in the deciding league contest, in a preliminary contest to the Bruins-Ft. Wayne pro men’s game. The Chicago Tribune pointed out that many of the 4,200 fans came “primarily to see the first-half of the double windup.”12
While women’s amateur basketball in Chicago seemed to have been embraced by the sports writers and the public, judging from Chicago Tribune reports since the dramatic Taylor Trunks-Edmonton Grads game at Broadway Armory in the spring of 1926, the women’s game had yet to arrive for some Chicago sports fans. The North Side seemed to readily accept and champion women’s basketball, but on the South Side at the White City arena it was a different story. When the Taylor Trunks met the May & Malone Girls in February 1928, a fan reported that “the spectators at White City continually razzed and booed the girls, and much questionable language was used by the supposedly clever wisecrackers. This is never true of the North Side audiences at Broadway Armory.” The Chicago newspapers thus seemed to be ahead of many elements of the public in the acceptance of women in sports. By the late 1920s, several of Chicago newspapers besides increasing their coverage of women sports events also added women sportswriters, notably the Chicago Daily News and Chicago Herald and Examiner, the latter featuring a regular columnist who provided news on women sports several times a week.13
After losing two games to the Edmonton Grads in Canada in October of 1927 for the Underwood Trophy, the Trunks proceeded to win all of their next 35 games. The team was at full strength with the return of founding member Kitty Miller. The team beat the Detroit Nationals in February 1928. Then, got revenge for their loss to Cleveland the previous year, beating the Cleveland Aces, 17-11, at the Broadway Armory before 3,000 spectators to win for what was billed as the “national title.” In March, 1928, the Trunks ventured up to Manitowoc, Wisconsin, to play the Follies Five. The local newspaper reported that the Trunks received the “largest guarantee ever paid a visiting team,” which is most telling of the Trunks’ amateur standing then. The write-up on the team showed a photo of the girls in dancing line pose, with one leg up showing a lot of thigh. This appears to be a send-up on the their opponent’s name, Follies Five, but it also served to convey to the public that while the Trunks played by men’s rules they were not “hard boiled” and were very much of the female gender. This was one of the rare times that the Taylor Trunks presented themselves in a manner that diminished themselves as athletes to emphasize their gender. One should not make too much of this joking incident, as it was clearly made in good fun.14
In the 1928-29 season, the Taylor Trunks again won the “national” women’s men’s rule championship, and again defeated Cleveland in Chicago. The Tribune reporter noted that the tight fitting men’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, another indication how more modern women’s basketball was in Chicago. The dress of women athletes was an ongoing modesty issue in Chicago. In a Chicago Tribune’s “The Inquiring Reporter” column (which asked “man on the street” a topical question of the day) a few years earlier. The question asked to five men whether women track athletes should wear the same kind of abbreviated outfits as men. Four of the men who approved of the abbreviated uniforms argued that such clothing allowed the women to compete at their best, and argued for women’s equality, that they like the men should wear what they want and compete on an equal basis. The Taylor Trunks’ modernity was expressed in other ways to the public, as when a newspaper story went out on the wires nationally in 1928 that the great athletic team had among its players two who were married, Kitty Miller and Dena Schaper, the former who was a mother. By the 1930s, married female players, some who were mothers, had become common, no longer “news.” In March of 1929, the Trunks, made a tour of Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut. In Pennsylvania, the Trunks met the Scranton girls state champions, and swept them in a three-game series, which was considered a series that cemented the team’s claim as “national champions.”15
By January 1930 the Taylor Trunks were hailed as national men’s rules champions by newspapers not only in Chicago but during its tours. The team was probably at its peak in the 1929-30 season, with the addition of a formidable basketball player from Danville, Illinois, Cassie Martin, who would be a mainstay during the 1930s on many top teams. In 1920 season, the Trunks 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. At the end of the year the Taylor Trunks released figures, that in the nine years of the team’s existence, the team claimed 228 won, and 20 lost. In April, 1930, the Trunks were undefeated against women teams, with 34 victories, but lost 11 games against men teams.16
The Trunks would lose to a woman’s team the next month, to the Edmonton Grads, before 7,000 fans. The Trunks 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.17
The 1930-31 season was another remarkable one for the Trunks, but the team saw the retirement of Kitty Miller, leaving three original players–Elizabeth Falbisaner, Dana Schaper, and Marie Curtin. One game in particular elicited national attention, when in January 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, At one point the Taylor Trunk center, Violet Krubaeck, wrestled the ball away from a House of David player, violently throwing him to the floor and knocking him out. The Taylor Trunks ended their season playing an old rival, the JPI Girls, and they prevailed. One does not know the circumstances by which the AAU allowed the Trunks to play JPI. Perhaps both teams decided to ignore the ban.18
The team in the 1931-32 season saw a loss of a number of the Taylor Trunks top players, notably the great Violet Krubaeck and original player Elizabeth Falbisaner. The team’s greatest days were behind it. The Trunks by this time were unabashed professionals, and were regularly playing boys and men’s teams to fill out its schedule. The games against male opponents were often subject to a bit of modification for the women, by eliminating the center jump after each basket in favor of giving possession to the scored-upon team. This was a practice that was becoming increasingly common in same-gender games, until new rules eliminated it in 1937. The games against men’s teams were something of a gimmick, perhaps a condescending one, as an entertainment to draw audiences. The contests were often called exhibitions, as Wisconsin paper said in 1931, “These Taylor Trunk girls do not claim that they are on a par with the men’s teams, but if they are given a chance with the ball [hence the center jump elimination], they can put up a great exhibition of basketball.” The games thus both enhance the development of women equality, but also remind of the athletic inequality between the sexes.19
Interviewed not long 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. A typical deal for the Taylor Trunks in its barnstorming games was to ask for a guarantee of 100 dollars or half the gross of the receipts, whatever comes out higher. At Escanaba, Michigan, in December 1931, for a game played against men, the team took home $170 dollars, which was half the gross receipts.”20
In January 1932, the Taylor Trunks management reported the team’s total record at that point was 242 wins and 46 defeats to women teams since their founding in 1921. The last season for the Taylor Trunks was 1932-33, where they played women’s and men’s mostly in small towns in Illinois. They always promoted themselves as the “girls’ basketball champions of the United States,” notwithstanding it was for only the pockets in the country that played men’s rules and even though no match championships had been played for several years. Marie Curtin played with that last team, the one remaining player that began with the team in 1921. The following year, a number of Taylor Trunk players had reentered AAU play were competing on a new amateur team, the Great Northern Debutantes, namely Cassie Martin, Inza Teague, and Hazel Kelfstrom.21
While the Taylor Trunks exited the scene without suitable recognition, the team created a tremendous legacy in Chicago sports that is still vaguely remembered today. But they were a star team that helped shape the public understanding of how basketball should be played by women and what it meant to be women athletes in the Roaring Twenties. More than any other women’s teams in Chicago, the Taylor Trunks in their highly athletic games against the top teams in North America at the Broadway Armory established the concept that woman’s basketball represented modern society and advancement of women.
1. Harland Rohm, “Tri Chi Girls Win 159 Games; Lose Only Four,” Chicago Tribune, 1 January 1927; Harland Rohm, “194 Games Won and 9 Lost; That’s the Trunks’ 8 Year Record,” Chicago Tribune, 7 December 1929.
3. “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; M. Ann Hall, The Grads Are Playing Tonight! (Edmonton, Alberta: University of Alberta Press, 2011), p.272.
4. “Tri-Chi Girls Again Win Interstate Cage Title,” Chicago Tribune, 11 March 1926; M. Ann Hall, pp. 272-73; Don Maxwell, “Girls War Like Amazons on Basket Floor,” Chicago Tribune, 6 April 1926.
5.. Sarah Addington, “The Athletic Limitations of Women,” Ladies Home Journal, June 1923, 38, 144, 147; Susan K. Cahn, Coming on Strong: Gender and Sexuality in Twentieth-Century Women’s Sports, 1900-1960 (New York: Free Press, 1994), 63-64.
6. “Don Maxwell, “Girls War Like Amazons.”
7 ‘in the Wake of the News,” Chicago Tribune, 7 April 1926.
8.. Welles Girls’ Five Is Victor,” Chicago Tribune, 11 January 1924; “Chicago Reds Nip Hamburg Cagers, 24-19,” Chicago Tribune, 17 March 1926; Harland Rohm, “Tri Chi Girls Win 159 Games; Lose Only Four,” Chicago Tribune, 1 January 1927.
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. “Star Stenog” , Uniontown Morning Herald, 9 May 1927; “Tri Chis Meet Champion Girl Cagers Tonight,” Chicago Tribune, 19 February 1927; “Cleveland Five Defeats Tri-Chi Girls by 17 to 15,” Chicago Tribune, 20 February 1927; “Briggs Beats Joyce, 18 to 15, for AAU Title,” Chicago Tribune, 1 May 1927.
11. “Taylor Trunks Win, 28-6; Bruins Beaten by 36-17,” Chicago Tribune, 30 March 1927; Harland Rohn, “Canadian Five Beats Tri-Chi Girls by 23-17,” Chicago Tribune, 30 April 1927; M. Ann Hall, The Grads Are Playing Tonight! (Edmonton, Alberta: University of Alberta Press, 2011), p. 275.
12. “Taylor Trunks Beat I.W.A.C. Girls, 18 to 13,” Chicago Tribune, 28 January 1928; “Ft. Wayne Five Speeds to 33-28 Win Over Bruins,” Chicago Tribune, 1 March 1928.
13. Fayette Krum Mullroy, “Women’s Sports,” Chicago Herald and Examiner, 19 March 1927; Virginia Farrar, “Cornell Square Successfully Defends Women’s Olympic Title,” Chicago Daily News, 30 May 1927; Fan, “Sportsmanship on the South Side” [letter], Chicago Tribune, 20 February 1928.’
14. M. Ann Hall,, p. 275; “Taylor Trunks Win U. S. Girls’ Basket Title,” Chicago Tribune, 24 February 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; “Dancing Their Way Toward Cage Title,” Manitoba Herald-News, 10 March 1928.
15. “The Inquiring Reporter,” Chicago Tribune, 23 March 1924; “Married Women, One a Mother, Stars of Champion Court Team,” Greenville Record Argus, 5 March 1928. 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 Tribune, 1 April 1929.
16. Walter T. Brown, “Whoops! They Play Boys At Own Game,” Evening Leader, 11 January 1930; “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; “Taylor Trunks Win 228, Lose 20 in 9 Years,” Chicago Tribune, 18 April 1930.
17. “Canadians Beat Taylor Trunks to Win Trophy,” Chicago Tribune, 6 May 1930; Hall, p. 280. ‘
18. ”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.
19. “Trunks Hold Good Record,” Escanaba Daily Press, 8 December 1931; “Company B Quintet Has Two Big Games on List,” Rhinelander Daily News, 11 December 1931; “Hebron Five Coached by Adams Will Play Taylor Trunks Girls,” Belvidere Daily Republican, 8 January 1932; “Wilfred Smith, “Bruin Quintet Beats Purdue Stars, 24 to 23,” Chicago Tribune, 4 April 1932.
20, Ken Gunderman, “Sez Me,” Escanaba Daily Press, 28 March 1933; “Hazel Johnson, 87–Female Basketball Player Who Turned Pro at Age 16,” Chicago Tribune, 8 October 2001.
21. “Hazel Joyce Is Youngest of Famed Taylor Trunks Quintet Appearing Here Saturday,” LaCrosse Tribune and Leader, 20 January 1933; “Taylor Trunks Defeat Davenport Quintet, 30-13, Chicago Tribune, 30 January 1933; “Five Games on Card Tonight in District Meet,” Chicago Tribune, 1 March 1934.