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

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The married couple of  Harry Wilson and Dena Schaper were significant contributors to the development of amateur and women sports during the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s.  With Harry Wilson coaching and Dena Schaper playing, the two made the Taylor Trunks the greatest amateur team playing men’s rules basketball in the country.  Harry Wilson went on to become a huge promoter and contributor of amateur and women sports in Chicago, particularly in basketball and softball.





The husband and wife team of Harry Wilson and Dena Schaper great contribution to women’s and amateur sports spanned two separate but slightly overlapping periods. The first, from 1921 to 1934, was when Schaper as star player and Wilson as coach founded and led the nationally famous Taylor Trunks team that dominated the sport in Chicago for more than a decade. The second period, from 1933 to 1954, was when Harry Wilson, as promoter, umpire, rules maker, and writer, became a significant force in the development of softball both as a men’s and women’s competitive sport and recreation.

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Dena and her father Lambertus

Dena Schaper was born November 1, 1901, in Groningen, Netherlands, to Lambertus Willem Schaper and Joanna Roelfzema Schaper, into a family of ten that included three brothers and four sisters. Schaper’s father came to America in 1907 and she with the rest of her family in 1909. They settled in the northwest side Logan Square Community of Chicago, not far from Humboldt Park.1

In 1920, 18-year old Dena was living in a crowded dwelling with nine other family members. The father was a carpenter in house construction, her mother was a housewife. Dena Schaper was employed in office work at the Mead Cycle Company. Four of her siblings, which ranged in age from 7 to 24, were also employed—three as clerks and one as a laborer. Dena never went to high school, according to her daughter, who made the point that, “she was exceptionally well read and taught herself how to play the piano.” On the 1940 census she listed her highest grade of learning as eighth, as did Harry.2

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Dena Schaper working on his high jump at YPSL Camp

Little is known of Schaper’s early athletic activities, except for the photo of her working on the high jump at the Young People’s Socialist League (YPSL) camp in Fox Lake, Illinois. She is wearing a uniform that all the girls wore at the camp, of white middy blouse, black tie, and black bloomers. She had told her daughter (Betty Kidera) that she had competed in running events for many years, and the family also has a medal that she won in tennis. In 1918 she met Harry Wilson at YPSL Camp. YPSL (pronounced Yipsel) was the youth organization of the Socialist Party of the United States. A camp being a camp, besides the track and field event shown, activities there possibly included swimming, hiking, basketball, volleyball, playground ball (an early form of softball), and such. But how at the age 20 did Dena Schaper immediately emerged as a major basketball talent is unknown.3

Harry Wilson was born on July 23, 1897, in West Chicago, Illinois, but grew up up on the North Side of  Chicago. He had a similar upbringing as Dena. His parents, Jacob and Celia Wilson, were Polish Jewish immigrants from Poland (then under Russian control), who came to the country in 1882. Like as with Dena, Harry lived in the same dwelling with a huge family. In 1910, the family lived in the impoverished solidly Jewish near West Side Maxwell Street neighborhood. In the 14-person household, Harry lived with five brothers and five sisters, the siblings ranging in age from 5 to 27. A 20 year old boarder made the dwelling even more crowded. The father worked in a furniture factory, and three of Harry’s brothers worked in factories. By the 1920 census, Harry lived with his family in the northwest side Humboldt Park Community. The household was still large, with 11 residents–father, mother, four sons, three daughters, one son-in-law, and one grandchild. Harry was teamed up with his brother Abraham as proprietors of a candy store.4

Harry was four years older than Dena when the he met her at the YPSL camp in 1918, and was possibly some kind of camp counselor or athletic coach. The two probably found a lot in common—both came from large working class families, both secular in outlook (said grandson George Kidera, “Dena did not practice any formal religion, Harry came from a Jewish family but did not practice the faith”), both liberal in their politics, and both it seems into athletics and sports. Wilson was one of the leaders of the Chicago YPSL chapter, and at the 1919 national convention of YPSL was elected to the national Executive Committee. Back in 1907, the Socialist Party in Chicago had formed an YPSL group, and in 1915 a national YPSL from chapters nationwide was formed with William F. Kruse as the Executive Secretary, serving two terms from 1915 through 1918. He worked out of Chicago and Bill and his wife Gussie developed a lifelong friendship with Harry and Dena.5

The post World War I period was absolutely the worst time to become involved in socialist politics for two young people at a YPSL camp. Following the Communist Revolution in Russia in 1917, the Socialist Party in the United States and its YPSL youth section became torn apart by factionalism, some wanting to leave and to take up the revolutionary socialism of the Communist Party, some wanting to stay with the Socialist Party, and some wanting to be independent of both parties.

On top of the factionalism, Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer in President Woodrow Wilson’s administration, who was bent on suppressing the ‘Red menace,’ put top Socialist Party leaders on trial, including Wilson’s friend and colleague William F. Kruse. During the infamous “Palmer Raids” in 1919-20 on Socialist, Communist, and YPSL groups throughout the country, YPSL was utterly shattered, with many leaving the movement. Kruse had his conviction of espionage overturned, and then joined the Communist Party. In 1929, he was expelled from the Party and gave up radical politics (according to Betty Kidera, he and his wife spent two years in the Soviet Union and “came back disillusioned with Communism”). Kruse subsequently developed a respected reputation as Education Director for Bell and Howell Films. Harry Wilson gave up radical politics a lot earlier.6

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Harry Wilson and Dena Schaper at YPSL Camp 1918, with Dena’s face blacked out.

While it does not appear that either Harry or Dena were swept up in the postwar “Red Scare” and Palmer Raids, they probably severed their connection with YPSL and socialist politics, but continued their political interests in the Democratic Party and liberal causes. Their daughter remembers her parents as being “staunch Democrats.” In the private papers of Dena held by her family, there is a photo of she and Harry at a the YPSL camp, on which she had apparently inked out her face. But she did not simply burn the photo, perhaps out of affection for Harry, where she had written on the back “our first photo.”7

In the fall of 1921 the Schaper and Wilson joined a newly formed women’s basketball team, called Lake View Community Girls, Schaper as a player and Wilson as the coach. The team in one story gives the long name as “Lake View Community Club Basketball Team.”  The team was actually a church team of the Federated Seminary Avenue Church, at Lill and Seminary, located in the Lake View Community. The church included a community center, called Lake View Community House (built around 1914), at a time when Muscular Christianity sentiment was strong in the churches, and like many of the city churches its center included a basketball court. Unlike most all church teams, however, the Lake View Community Girls never identified itself as a church team, and never competed in any church leagues. This team would evolve into the famed Taylor Trunks. The Chicago Tribune story on the origin of the team made it sound like a group of young teenage girls in the neighborhood, from 14 to 16 old years, who got together to form a team called the Lake View Community Girls. Four of the names the paper included in that first team competed through much of the eleven-year history of the team–Marie Curtin, Kitty Miller, Elizabeth Falbisaner, and Dena Schaper.8

What was not mentioned in the Chicago Tribune story was that the team had a 24-year old male coach, Harry Wilson, and that Schaper was actually 20 years old, a strong mature woman, who played an outsized role in the success of the team in its early years. Neither were from the neighborhood–Dena four miles west in the Logan Square Community, Harry 3½ miles southwest in the Humboldt Park Community. Thus, it seemed as though Schaper and Wilson were outsiders who came to the neighborhood to assist the girls in maybe learning basketball and in forming a team; or coming in and taking over an already formed team, and to put them on the level where they could actually compete with the older and more experienced amateur teams in the city. Indeed they did. The first year the team won 11 games and lost 2, both to the Uptown Brownies. The following season, 1922-23, the team garnered a 15-2 record.9

In Chicago, notably, most amateur women basketball teams in the city and suburbs played the game under the highly aggressive and physical men’s rules game. High schools and colleges, and amateur women teams in most areas of the country, however, played with a court divided into three sections with lines, with six players on each side (in each section two opposing players). Each player was limited to her section, making the game mostly a passing game. Roughness was minimalized by barring snatching of the ball and allowing only vertical guarding. The physical education establishment regularly condemned men’s rules for women, considering it both physically and emotionally taxing for women, and possibly damaging their ability to become mothers.10

Chicago was not the only city in North America where men’s rules basketball for women was played, but it by far had the largest program compared to the cities of Cleveland, Detroit, London, Ontario; and Edmonton, Alberta. Teams from these areas would travel to their competitor’s city and regularly compete for the national championship (as between Cleveland and Chicago) or the international championship (as between Edmonton and Chicago). The Lake View Community Girls and under the different names they played, notably the Taylor Trunks, developed a national reputation because of their constant touring.

When Dena and Harry showed up in the fall of 1921 to join or lead the Lake View Community Girls, we do not know if they were already an “item” or simply colleagues engaged in recreational training or something. But as was want to happen on many of the woman basketball teams during the 1920s and 1930s, where romance often developed between a player and coach, Dena Schaper and Harry Wilson were married by a justice of the peace on September 29, 1923. Schaper kept her birth name while playing for the team. She was working at Peoria and Eastern Railway (P&ER) at the time, but kept her marriage a secret, because of the sometime mores of the era she was expected to leave employment. A year later when she announced her “engagement” at P&ER, the company threw an “engagement” party for her. Soon after she resigned.

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March 5, 1928 newspaper wire story on Taylor Trunks married players.

Being married player on the team was considered somewhat a novelty, and in 1928 a newspaper story was sent out on the news wires on the Taylor Trunks and their two married starting players, Dena Schaper and her teammate Kitty Miller (who had the added novelty of being a mother).  That Schaper and Miller were two of the best players on a top team that played scrappy men’s rules made them seem particularly novel. The article tone of apparent approval of wives and mothers competing in basketball was an “in your face” reproof  of the physical education establishment in the schools that condemned vigorous athletics for females in the gym classes of the high schools and colleges.11

The Lake View Community Girls emerged as the dominant team in Chicago in 1924, when they won the Central AAU women’s championship. Game reports were few in the newspapers of the day, the women’s game having not yet gained that much interest of the public. Thus, it is difficult to appreciate how important the older Schaper was for the team in those early years, although only average height and weight she was regularly regarded as the physically strongest player on the team. A game report in January 1924 showed that Schaper was high scorer in a game against the Steger Congregational Church, scoring 15 of the Lake View Community Girls 32 points over their opponents’ 13 points.12

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Lake View Community Girls champion team from 1925. Dena in upper far right.

The Lake View Community Girls repeated as Central AAU champs in 1925. In the first game of the season, in November 1924, Schaper showed she would again be a force in local AAU competition, contributing 18 points of her team’s 35 point winning score over the Jarvis and White Girls team. At the end of the season, she was rewarded as the Central AAU’s top points scorer. 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 girls traveled in 1924 and 1925 to Edmonton, Alberta, to play the famed Commercial Grads for the Underwood Trophy. They lost all four games by considerable margins they contested against the Grads, showing that the game as played in Chicago at the time was not yet competitive with Grads. But in that trip, Dena and Harry began a lifetime friendship with the Grads’ coach, Percy Page, and his wife Maude.13

In the 1925-26 season, Schaper was now playing with the Tri-Chi Girls, having changed their name from the Lake View Community Girls. They began their season in December with a big international contest against the Commercial Grads, a two-game challenge match, in Edmonton, Canada, in which the Tri-Chis lost both games. The team then swept through 23 regular season games undefeated, taking their third Interstate League title and third Central AAU title, both in March of 1926.14

As in 1925, Dena Schaper was the high points scorer in the 1926 season. She also shared the Tri-Chis’ single game scoring record of 27 points with three of her teammates. Schaper’s most notable game was the April 1926 game against the legendary Commercial Grads at Broadway Armory in Chicago before 6,000 fans. The Tri-Chis lost a close game against the North American champions, 19-17,  in a game that made the male sporting fraternity stand up and take notice of the exciting athleticism of the women’s game in Chicago. Crucial presence for the Trunks was Schaper, considered the physically strongest of the Tri-Chis, who scored 8 of the team’s 17 points.15

Schaper in the 1926-27 season experienced another name change for her team, which was now the Taylor Trunks Tri-Chi Girls, the team coming under the sponsorship of the T.  J. Taylor Company, a manufacturer of travel trunks. In a January 1927 Chicago Tribune feature article on the team by Harland Rohn, he gave a history on the team and wrote up a profile of each player. He described Schaper as “another blonde of average height and weighing about 135 pounds, she is the strongest girl on the team” (as she has been described before, he means physically strong). Strength was greatly valued in female basketball player in men’s rules game, as it was highly scrappy and aggressive.16

Dena Schaper needed strength of quite a different kind around this time, an emotional kind, when her father, Lambertus Schaper, died on November 3, 1927. Her grandson said, “The family story is that her father, a union carpenter, was killed by being pushed down an elevator shaft during a union dispute in 1927. His obituary called it an accident. He was 56.”17

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Taylor Trunks, 1927, Dena Schaper, second row, far left.

Schaper had a down year in scoring in the 1926-27 season, as much of the scoring for part of the season was taken over by new player in mid-February. She was a tall rangy and powerful center, Violet Krubaeck, who displaced Schaper as the team’s physically strongest player, and often as top scorer. Violet Krubaeck and her husband George Klasen eventually became lifelong friends with Dena and Harry.18

Schaper had one of her best seasons as did the Taylor Trunks (Tri-Chis was dropped from the name) in the 1927-28 basketball campaign. The Taylor Trunks lost two games to the Commercial Grads in Canada in October of 1927, but through the remainder of the season proceeded to win all of their next 34 games, again taking the local league title, called the Middle States Girls’ Basketball League in 1928, for the fourth time in the decade. The team also won its first men’s rules “national” championship, defeating the Cleveland Aces, 17-11, and toured frequently to beat all comers in Wisconsin, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut, some claiming to be “state champions.”19

Schaper in this great 1927-28 season was still the oldest Trunk at 24 years old. She weighed 133 pounds, and was 5’ 5’, typical size of her right guard position. One paper referred to her being named to a “mythical all-world international five,” her selection based on her ability to holding her opponent scoreless six times during the year. This was an International News wire service all-star selection of women basketball players supposedly covering the world, but was probably limited to North America.

Besides her defensive skill, Schaper was really tossing up the points in 1928. On tour in Iowa, a local paper said of Schaper:  “…Dena Schaper, who altho she is a guard has been the team’s leading scorer for the past five years. She is credited with having scored more points than any girl player living.”  The latter exaggerated sentence is typical how local papers built up the Taylor Trunks to pump up the gate, but it is indicative how Schaper was viewed as a player. In a March story a paper reported that Schaper held the record for women playing under men’s rules for scoring, 37 points in both 1927 and 1928. Typical of Schaper’s scoring in 1928 was a game against the Follies Five of Manitowoc, Wisconsin, in which she scored 14 of the Trunks 38 points. “Miss Schaper …was a star. She came down the side court time and again on passes from her teammates sank shots until she had gathered seven baskets.”20

Schaper had told her daughter that she competed in track and field up to the late 1920s. There is one piece of evidence that supports this–a mention of her competing for the Taylor Trunks track and field team in 1928, alongside Violet Krubaeck and the sisters Inza and Helen Teague.  In the huge Chicago American/Central AAU women’s meet, Schaper was entered in the 220 yard, along with Krubaeck and Inza. All three of her teammates also competed in other events, notably baseball throw. Schaper did not reach the final 220 yard field, however, and there is no evidence of any further track competition.21

In the Taylor Trunks’ 1928-29, Schaper continued to prove herself as a mainstay in the team’s lineup, showing defensive skills in particular. The Chicago Tribune in an early write-up on the team before a crucial game against the Cleveland Allertons that season said, “Dena Schaper is the principal reason why opponents find it so difficult to penetrate the Chicagoans’ defense.” Unlike the previous year, Schaper was not a scoring demon.22

Schaper competed in all six games against the Cleveland Allertons in defense of the Taylor Trunks’ national title, and with her team made a ten-day barnstorming trip east to Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut in March and April 1929. In one game, against Billy Pane’s Bucktown A.A., of Scranton, Pennsylvania’s state champion claimants, Schaper was dubbed the “star” of the team, showing some of her old scoring fire, slinging the ball into the hoop for 17 of the Trunk’s 39 points in the win.23

In the 1929-30 season, Schaper did not play for the Taylor Trunks, as she was pregnant, having her first child, Lois Patricia, on March 17, 1930. At the time the census was taken, she was at home, in the northwest side Logan Square community, taking care of a one month baby girl. While husband Harry was still involved in basketball coaching, his occupation in the census was listed as proprietor of a publication (name of publication unknown).24

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Taylor Trunk 1930 poster

Coach Wilson, even without his wife playing, had one of his best seasons with the Taylor Trunks. By January 1930 the Taylor Trunks were being hailed as national men’s rules champions, by newspapers not only in Chicago but by local newspapers on its tours. The Trunks traveled all over the Midwest, defeating various state champions, beating Cleveland Allerton Aces six times, and played a victorious host to London, Ontario, at the Broadway Armory, to defeat all women teams during the year (they lost 11 times to men’s teams in their “exhibition” games). Reports of the Taylor Trunks games were regularly distributed nationally by the wire services. The Trunks would finally lose to a women’s team in May, in Edmonton, Canada, to the 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.25

In the 1930-31 season, Schaper returned to the Trunks, but she was used infrequently. At the end of the season she appeared to have retired, not competing the next season in the regular AAU-sanctioned competition that was still thriving in the city. It also appears that Harry Wilson had left the Taylor Trunks as well, being replaced by Kenneth Anderson (who was mentioned as manager of the team in May 1932).26

But Dena Schaper returned to basketball competition after the 1931-32 AAU season was over, in May. The champion team that year was the May & Malone Girls. Harry Wilson, who since 1924 had taken his teams up to Edmonton, Canada, to compete with the Commercial Grads for the Underwood Trophy, five times, and almost equal number of times in Chicago. In May 1932, he formed an ad hoc team, the Red Devils, which was the May & Malone Girls with the addition of Dena, to compete against the Commercial Grads in two games, the total score of both determining the winner. As usual, the Grads prevailed, but the Red Devils kept one game relatively tight, losing only by ten points. Schaper performed well defensively, but offensively scored no more than a handful of points.27

Six Point Co-eds 1933, players who became Red Devils team in Edmonton, Dena Schaper far left.

The next year, in May, 1933, again at the end of the AAU season, Wilson again took a Red Devils team up to Edmonton to compete against Percy Page’s perennial champs for the Underwood Trophy. Wilson built a team selecting five players from the Six Point Co-eds (May & Malone Girls under a new name) and three players from the Central AAU champion Spencer Coals team. Among the players on the Six Points team were former Taylor Trunks, Violet Krubaeck and Dena Schaper, who competed during the regular season as Dena Wilson. Up in Canada, on the Red Devils team, Dena competed under the name Schaper. The Grads won all three matches, being tested only in the second game.28

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Red Devils vs. Commercial Grads in Edmonton, 1933. Dena Schaper on center line.

Harry Wilson brought a third Red Devils team in late October 1933 to face the Commercial Grads in Canada for the Underwood Trophy. The team was essentially the Six Point Co-eds from the year before, with the addition of yet another former Taylor Trunk, Elizabeth Falbisaner, along with Violet Krubaeck and Dena Schaper. The team lost all three of the match games, and then proceeded into the 1934 regular season to compete as the Rickett’s Restaurant Girls. The Rickett’s Girls won the American Tournament title in March 1934, which that year was equivalent to the city championship. The Central AAU tournament was oddly played under women’s rules, and the Rickett’s Girls did not participate. The Rickett’s Girls’ American Tournament title win over the formidable Spencer Coals, 19-17, was probably the last basketball game Dena Schaper played. The game ended a nearly 13-year career since she joined a group of young teenage girls in the fall of 1921 to compete as the Lake View Community Girls.29

The question might arise in the reader’s mind that the three teams involved in the make-up of the Red Devils—May & Malone Girls, Six Point Co-eds, Rickett’s Restaurant Girls—which was basically the same team with different sponsors every year—as to whether or not they were coached by Harry Wilson.  The Rickett’s Girls were not, their regular season coach being R. H. Lawlor, but with the other two teams we should realize that the newspapers of the day rarely mentioned the manager or coach of the teams, and in the available photos of the teams, the manager is not pictured. At best, Wilson was possibility the regular season coach for May & Malone and Six Point Co-eds.30

Meanwhile, on the home front during 1933, Dena and Harry suffered heartbreak when their three-year-old daughter, Lois Patricia, died on March 5th of a brain tumor. Their second daughter, Betty, was born two months later, on May 10th. She was not born to Dena and Harry, however, who during that day were traveling by train to Edmonton, Canada, with their Red Devils team, to compete for the Underwood Trophy. Percy and Maude received the distraught couple with loving arms and during the next several days during three hard fought basketball battles, Percy and Maude arranged to have the out-out-wedlock baby adopted immediately by the Wilsons. Their third daughter, Carol Ann, was born in March 1936. During the summers during the 1930s and 1940s, Schaper and her family would sometimes spend vacation time at the family cottage in Cary, a small town forty miles northwest of Chicago. The cottage was built in the 1920s by Schaper’s father with fellow immigrant Dutch carpenters. After 1927, when Schaper’s father was killed, the dwelling became the family cottage.31

Through the remainder of the 1930s, Harry Wilson continued to organize and coach ad hoc women’s basketball teams as he did earlier in the decade with the Red Devils teams. For example, in January 1938, the Fisher Food’s team, a longtime Midwest women’s basketball power from Cleveland, was barnstorming that winter, and Wilson organized, trained, and coached the team called the Chicago-Land All-Stars to play them.  In May 1938, he assembled a team of  all-stars from Chicago’s best basketball talent, called Chicago All-Stars, to compete for the Underwood Trophy.  Four were veterans of previous Underwood Trophy contests–Madge Kline, Evelyn Krubaeck, Anne Goldstein, and Lillian Rozhon. He also brought Dena, who served as the team chaperone and also sat on the bench for her input (“She is a great student of the game and her suggestions are just as valuable as those of the average male coach,” said Harry).32

The last basketball team Wilson coached in the decade was the Queen Anne Aces, three-time champion of the Chicago American city championship tournament. Wilson was not their regular-season coach, but in May 1939 and May 1940 he took the Chicago three-time city champions, the Queen Anne Aces, up to Edmonton, and played the Grads for the Underwood Trophy Competition.  The Queen Anne Aces, included one former Taylor Trunk player, the incomparable Violet Krubaeck, who retired after the 1940 series. The Aces, as did all the previous Underwood Trophy contenders, lost both series. In the 1939 series, the Queen Anne Aces, won the third of the three games, 35-33  making it the second time that a Wilson-coached team had beaten the Grads in a game contested for the Underwood Trophy. But the Grads won the Trophy based combined scores of the three games. Before the second game at the arena Wilson was “eulogized” and given a presentation watch, “as one of the best sportsmen to ever bring a basketball team to Edmonton.” Percy Page spoke, saying, “he was the one coach who never developed hysterics while guiding his team from the bench and that he invariably accepted officials’ decisions without making any kind of squawk.”33

The 1940 series, in which the Queen Anne Aces lost all three matches, was historic as it was the final series and last game of the retiring Commercial Grads, in the last Underwood Trophy competition. While there, Harry Wilson, as well as Dena Schaper who again served as team chaperone, received a host of plaudits from the Edmonton basketball community, the pair apparently being regarded as great sports ambassadors from the United States.  Said one columnist on the celebration after the final game: “There was also a deserved cheer for Harry Wilson of Chicago who has brought more and better American teams to Edmonton than any other coach from that country.” Another columnist commented, “There is no team as welcome in Edmonton than the one from Chicago, and no coach and chaperone more popular-and deservingly so–than Mr. and Mrs. Harry Wilson.”34

In 1938, when Wilson took the Chicago All-Stars up to Edmonton to compete against the Grads, he wrote in a series of articles for the Edmonton Journal on the history of the Edmonton-Chicago basketball rivalry. In one of them, he said, “While my work with the American Softball Association has kept me too busy to [regularly] coach a basketball team, my interest in the game has not slackened.” Not only did he come up to Edmonton when he brought a team, he (and sometimes Dena) apparently came up annually for each of the Underwood Trophy competitions, sometimes to work as an official and sometimes to observe, but always to visit with their friends Percy and Maude Page.35

As the reference to the American Softball Association work indicated, Wilson’s activities in sports became more expansive during the 1930s, after early in the decade when he became the sports promotion director at the Chicago American, which was a perfect home for a long time liberal Democrat and one-time socialist. The 1920s and 1930s were the heyday of newspaper sponsorship of sports events, and even though the paper was owned by the right-wing William Randolph Hearst, it was directed to the working and lower middle classes. The American was one of the most aggressive sponsors of sport events–a basketball tournament for both men and women, a bowling tournament for women, a golf tournament for women, and a softball tournament for men and women. The Chicago American, a tabloid directed towards the working and lower middle class, was the best friend to working men and women who played sports in Chicago.

Harry Wilson worked with all the paper’s tournaments, but he was most associated with softball, the modern version of the game that was developed by the Chicago American tournament.  One paper described Wilson as “umpire-in-chief  of the American Softball Association and chief interpreter of rules of the United States.”  Wilson was credited in persuading the Chicago Century of Progress to hold the first national softball tournament in 1933 that kick-started the sport’s national growth through the Depression. In particular, Harry helped the Chicago American with its huge annual city softball tournament that spread softball through every nook and cranny of Chicago, an achievement that reflected his interest in championing the working class, as this was a sport that was adopted by the masses. The softball version that was particularly adopted by the masses in Chicago was the 16-inch slow pitch game, which grew like wildfire in the city as a favorite recreation.  Wilson also worked as an umpire through the 1930s for both men’s and women’s softball teams, mostly for 16-inch games.36

Because Wilson was a behind the scenes presence in many of his activities, it is difficult to get even a partial account of all this sports-related activities. A letter in his files from the National AAU men’s tournament in 1938 in which he is reporting his observations.  He appears to be there to observe the meet and make contacts with the intention “to get the National meet away next year,” [to Chicago one presumes].37  A side point in the letter gives a glimpse of racism in Denver and how it appalled Wilson giving a sense of his liberal values. Said he:

We still have the negro team from Chicago in there, as they have been unbeaten…We were told plainly that they will not be allowed to win, so I guess they will be given the works tonight. They play a team only 70 miles away from Denver, and to my surprise this state here is even more Jim Crowish than southern states.

The African American team  was the Collegians and they in fact lost to the Denver team and in the Chicago Tribune short report on the game the reporter talked about funny business with the refereeing.38

By the 1940 census, Dena and Harry Wilson and their daughters were living on the West Side. Dena was listed as a housewife and Harry was employed as a salesman for Goshen and Metal Stamping Co., a “whole steel manufacturing company,” as Harry described the company in the census.39

During the 1940s, Dena continued to work as a housewife and mother. In 1941, thirty-four years after she came to America, Dena Wilson became a naturalized citizen. Harry at this time had his regular sales representative job with Goshen Metal and Stamping, in Goshen, Wisconsin, whose customers included Rand McNally and Replogle, both which were big makers of globes and maps for schools nationwide.40

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Magazine story on Harry Wilson and his College All-Stars vs. the World’s Champion Tournament, 1945

Wilson continued his newspaper sports promotion into the 1940s with the Chicago Herald-American (successor paper in 1939 to the Chicago American). The tournaments that he had pushed and promoted for the Chicago American were in decline. In 1939, Wilson in partnership with another promoter Harry Hannin created another big tournament, the World Professional Basketball Tournament, sponsored by the Chicago American the first year and by the Chicago Herald-American in subsequent years. From 1939 to 1948 the tournament gathered the best pro teams in the nation and brought them to Chicago to compete for the “World’s Championship,” in March. In 1940, Wilson again with Hannin also originated the annual College All-Stars vs. World’s Professional Champion basketball tournament, a match held in late November or early September every year. According to an old magazine clipping Wilson was the director of the contest until 1944 (Hannin may have dropped out at some point), but it continued through to the last World Professional tournament in 1948.41

In 1942, Harry put his long experience in coaching and umpiring men’s and women’s softball to use, with his instruction book on softball, Play Softball, published by Ziff-Davis Publishing Company. He also ghost-wrote an instruction book on baseball, ostensibly written by an eleven-year veteran MLB player, Lew Fonseca. Harry continued his softball umpiring, and regularly wrote a softball column for the Chicago Herald-American. For this softball related work, but particularly as an umpire, Wilson was inducted into the Chicago 16 Inch Softball Hall of Fame in 1997.42

Around 1950, when Harry ended his salesman position with Goshen Stamping, the couple retired to the family cottage in Cary, which had been upgraded over the years with indoor plumbing and the like. Harry maintained his involvement in softball, the women’s game, in 1949 becoming the owner of a team in the National Girls’ Baseball League (NGBL), the Martin Jewels. The team operated out of their own stadium, the Martin Jewelers Stadium. The NBGL, despite its name, was not national but a local Chicago-area league, did not play baseball but softball. In 1952, Wilson was named president of the league, and in August of that year he and a business partner took over the Bloomers Girls playing out of Parichy Stadium in Forest Park, renaming the team the Wilson-Jones Bloomer Girls. Wilson headed the league until its demise in 1954.43

To illustrate concept in text

The Wilson family, 1968, Clockwise from top left: Dena Schaper Wilson, Harry Wilson, Betty, and Carol Ann.

Dena and Harry Wilson lived comfortably in the family cottage in Cary until their deaths. Harry died in October 1970, and Dena in February 1980. Both died with no recognition from Chicago’s major newspapers. But to their family and friends, Dena Schaper and Harry Wilson were important individuals in Chicago’s rich legacy of amateur sports, contributing to the growth and popularity of women’s basketball and men and women’s softball in Chicago and its surrounding area.44

Special note of thanks to grandson George Kidera and daughter Betty Kidera for all the assistance in this essay–illustrative and text–on Dena Schaper Wilson and Harry Wilson.


1.  Thirteenth Census of the United States: 1910 Population, Bureau of the Census. Illinois, Cook County, Chicago; Ward 27, Enumeration District 1211 , Sheet 14B. 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 35 (part of 8), Enumeration District 2277, Sheet 6B. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 1992; George Kidera email, 10 April 2020.

2.  Sixteenth Census of the United States: 1940 Population Schedule, Bureau of the Census, Illinois Cook County, Chicago, Ward 24, Enumeration District 103-2135, Sheet 3B. Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 2012.

3.  George Kidera emails, 10 April 2020; 19 April 2020.

4.  Thirteenth Census of the United States: 1910 Population, Bureau of the Census. Illinois, Cook County, Chicago; Ward 10, Enumeration District 525 , Sheet 6B. 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 15, Enumeration District 881, Sheet 17A: Washington, DC, National Archives and Records Administration, 1992.

5.  William F. Kruse, An Open Letter to All Yipsels. [late September 1919] The Young Socialists’ Magazine [Chicago], v. 13, no. 8/9 (Aug.-Sept. 1919), pp. 6-7; William F. Kruse, The National Emergency Convention Through Yipsel Eyes The Young Socialists’ Magazine [Chicago], v. 13, no. 8/9 (Aug.-Sept. 1919), pp. 8-11; George Kidera email, 10 April 2020.

6.  Tim Davenport, “Young People’s Socialist League” (1907-1946): Organizational History,” Early American Marxism [http://www.marxisthistory.org/subject/usa/eam/index.html]. accessed 11 April 2020.

7.  George Kidera emails, 10 April 2020; 13 April 2020; 19 April 2020.

8.  “Fast Girl Basketball Teams in Game Tonight,” Chicago Tribune , 16 October 1923;   “Special Parties—Lakeview Community Club Basketball Team,” unidentified newspaper club from 1925; Harland Rohm, “Tri Chi Girls Win 159 Games; Lose Only Four,” Chicago Tribune, 1 January 1927;   Oney Fred Sweet, “Church Merger Started in 1919 in Completed,” Chicago Tribune, 1 September 1929; Harland Rohm, “194 Games Won and 9 Lost; That’s the Trunks’ 8 Year Record,” Chicago Tribune, 7 December 1929.

9.  Ibid.

10.  Joanna Davenport, “Chapter 5–The Tides of Change in Women’s Basketball Rules,” in A Century of Women’s Basketball. From Frailty to Final Four, edited by Joan S. Hult and Marianna Trekell (Reston, Virginia: American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance), 1991.

11.  “Married Women, One A Mother, Stars of Champion Court Team,” Greenville Record Argus, 5 March 1928; “Illinois, Cook County Marriages, 1871-1920, “Harry Wilson and Dena Schaper, 29 Sept 1923,” Cook County Clerk. Cook County Courthouse, Chicago. George Kidera email, 12 April 2020

12.  “Lake View Girl Five Wins Again,” Chicago Tribune, 13 January 1924; 14. “L. V. Girls and Cornells Win C.A.A.U. Titles,” Chicago Tribune, 30 March 1924.

13.  “Lake View Girls’ Five Wins First Game, 36-7,” Chicago Tribune, 20 November 1924; “Underwood International Trophy Games,” Commercial Grads: 25 Years of Basketball Championships, 1915-1940 (Montreal, Canada: Royal Bank of Canada, 1975), n.p.

14.  “Tri-Chi Girls Again Win Interstate Cage Title,” Chicago Tribune, 11 March 1926; “Tri-Chi Girls to Play for Basket Title Tomorrow,” Herald and Examiner, 4 April 1926; “Chandlers Five of Evanston Win A.A.U. Cage Title,” Chicago Tribune, 28 March 1926; M. Ann Hall, The Grads Are Playing Tonight! (Edmonton, Alberta: University of Alberta Press, 2011), pp. 272-73.

15.  “Tri-Chi Girls Play Tonight,” Herald and Examiner, 5 April 1926; Don Maxwell, “Girls War Like Amazons on Basket Floor,” Chicago Tribune, 6 April 1926.

16.  Harland Rohn, “Tri Chi Girls Win 159 Games; Lose Only Four,” Chicago Tribune, 1 January 1927.

17.  Cook County Deaths, 1878-1994 database, “Lamberton W Schaper, 03 Nov 1927,” Chicago, Cook County, Illinois, source reference [none] , Clerk, Cook County Courthouse, Chicago; George Kidera email 16 April 2020

18.  “Tri Chis Meet Champion Girl Cagers Tonight,” Chicago Tribune, 19 February 1927; George Kidera email, 10 April 2020.

19.  “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;  “Ft. Wayne Five Speeds to 33-28 Win Over Bruins,” Chicago Tribune, 1 March 1928; “Taylor Trunks Beat Harvey for 34th Straight Victory,” Chicago Tribune, 3 April 1928.

20.  “Stage Is Set For Games at Coliseum Gym,” Davenport Democrat and Leader, 26 January 1928; “Huge Throng to Witness Unique Bill Thursday,” Davenport Democrat and Leader, 28 January 1928. “Taylor Trunks Smother Aurora Girls’ Five, 63 to 6,” Chicago Tribune, 30 January 1928; “Chicago Five Have Not Lost Game This Year,” Manitoba Herald News, 7 March 1928; “Follies No Match for Taylor Trunks, Lose by 39-14 Count,” Manitowoc Herald-News, 12 March 1928.

21.  “Track Meet Entries by Event,” Chicago American, 1 June 1928.

22.  “Taylor Trunks, Cleveland to Play for Girls’ Cage Crown,” Chicago Tribune, 27 December 1928.

23.  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. ““Chicago Girls Win Third Series Game ,” Scranton Republican, 1 April 1929.

24.  Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930, Population Schedule, Bureau of the Census, Illinois, Cook County, Chicago, Ward 39 , Enumeration District 16-1365, Sheet 2A (Washington, DC: National Records and Census Administration, 2002).

25.  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 Winn 228, Lose 20, in 9 Years,” Chicago Tribune, 16 April 1930; “Canadians Beat Taylor Trunks To Win Trophy,” Chicago Tribune, 6 May 1930.

26.  “Taylor Trunks Beat House of David 6th Time,” Chicago Tribune, 29 January 1931; “Taylor Trunks Defend Record Against J.P.I.,” Chicago Tribune, 9 April 1931; “Girl Basketball Star and Manager of Her Team Elope,” Chicago Tribune, 1 May 1932.

27.  “City Cage Champs” , Chicago American, 15 March 1932; “Commercial Grads Retain World’s Cage Title,” Winnipeg Free Press, 17 May 1932.

28.  Leo Fischer, “Record Crowd Sees Windup of American’s Cage Meet,” Chicago American, 20 March 1933; “Commercial Grads Defeat Chicago Cagers, 74-35,” Winnipeg Free Press, 15 May 1933; “Commercial Grads Humble Chicago,” Winnipeg Free Press,13 May 1933.

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

30.  “Chicago Girls Leave to Play Champion Quintet,” Chicago Tribune , 24 October 1933; “Edmonton Grads Defeat Spencer Coals; Keep Trophy,” Chicago Tribune, 22 May 1934; “Edmonton Women Keep Title,” New York Times, 9 October 1935; “Edmonton Grads Beat Chicago All-Stars” Chicago Tribune, 13 May 1938.

31.  “Lois Patricia Wilson,” Public Board of Health, Archives, Springfield, Illinois;  George Kidera, email 9 April 2020.

32.  Edw. Cotton, “Girls Champions Basket Ball Teams” Forest Park Review, 19 January 1938; Harry D. Wilson, “Chicago Hoopsters Here Tuesday Figure to Be Well-Loaded With Class,” Edmonton Journal,  7 May 1938.

33.  “Harry Wilson Honored Here,” 1 June 1939;  George Mackintosh, George Mackintosh, “Queen Anne Aces Take Lead, Hold Off World Champions,” Edmonton Journal, 3 June 1939;  “Chicago Women Lose Series,” Chicago Tribune, 6 June 1939.

34.  George Mackintosh, “The Sporting Periscope,” Edmonton Journal, 6 June 1940; Pat Hollingsworth, “Feminine Flashes,” 1 June 1940; ”  “Edmonton Grads, Wonder Cagers, Play Last Game,” Winnipeg Tribune, 6 June 1940.

35.  “Grads Triumph,” Edmonton Journal, 3 June 1935;  Harry D. Wilson, “Chicago Hoopsters,” 7 May 1938.

36.  “Wilson Officiates in Game Tonight,” Edmonton Journal, 4 June 1940; “Harry Wilson,” Chicago 16 Inch Softball Hall of Fame, 2020 [https://16inchsoftballhof.com/inductee/harry-wilson/]; “History of USA Softball,” USA Softball, United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee [https://www.teamusa.org/usa-softball/about-usa-sb/history], 2020.

37.  Harry Wilson, letter, 16 March 1938; “Collegians, Demons Lose, Chicago Tribune, 17 March 1938.

38.  Ibid.

39.  Sixteenth Census of the United States: 1940 Population Schedule, Bureau of the Census, Illinois Cook County, Chicago, Ward 24, Enumeration District 103-2135, Sheet 3B (Washington, DC, National Archives and Records Administration, 2012).

40.  Northern District Naturalization Index, 1840-1950, Illinois Deaths and Stillbirths, 1916-1947. “Dena Schaper Wilson, 1941,” NARA microfilm publication M1285. Washington DC: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d);  : “Harry D. Wilson,” The Herald, 13 October 1970; George Kidera emails, 9 April 2020 and 19 April 2020.

41.  “Chicago Plans Pro Cage World Series,” Alton Evening Telegraph, 21 February 1939; “Harry Wilson,” Chicago 16 Inch Softball Hall of Fame, 2020 [https://16inchsoftballhof.com/inductee/harry-wilson/]; George Kidera, email 4 April 2020; George Kidera, email 11 April 2020;  Raymond Schmidt, email 29 April 2020.

42.  Harry Warren, “All-Star Five Faces Pros in Stadium Game, Chicago Tribune 1 December 1940; “Basketball Classic: The College All-Stars Vs. The World Champions,” probably 1945 magazine clipping, from the George Kidera papers.

43.  “Two Teams Added to the National Girls Baseball League,” Chicago Tribune, 6 March 1949; “Elect Wilson to Girls’ League,” Chicago Tribune, 4 February 1952; “Music Maids, Belles Divide; Bluebirds Win,” Chicago Tribune, 7 August 1952.

44.  Social Security Death Index, “Harry Wilson, Oct 1970”; Social Security Administration, (Alexandria, Virginia: National Technical Information Service); Social Security Death Index, “Dena Wilson, Feb 1980.”; Social Security Administration, (Alexandria, Virginia: National Technical Information Service); George Kidera, email 4 April 2020; George Kidera, email 9 April 2020.


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4 Responses to 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

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  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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