It is well known that basketball was invented in 1891 by Dr. James Nesmith, but what is not so well known is the history of women’s basketball. The inaugural womens college basketball session was actually part of a physical education class at Smith College for girls in Conneticut.
The very first womens college basketball game took place at Smith College for girls in 1893 where the freshman played against the sophomores. Unlike womens college basketball games today, the game actually took place behind locked doors and men were prohibited from watching.
The rules of this first womens college basketball game were altered from those of the original mens version to enhance teamwork. The court had 3 zones and three players from each team of nine were allowed in each zone but could not move out of their zone. Funnily enough, these early restrictions in the womens college basketball game are strikingly similar to the game of netball that is played by schoolgirls and women all over Europe.
Womens college basketball began to spread quickly and the first game between two different womens college basketball teams was played in April 1896 with Stanford beating Berkley. There were still 9 players on each womens college basketball team in this inter-college game but instead of keeping the original rule where a player could only hold the ball for 3 seconds and must dribble it 3 times before passing this was changed so that a player could not run more than 5 feet before having to pass the ball. Once again, however, as with the first womens college basketball game, men were not allowed to watch the game.
The formal rules of womens college basketball were first produced in 1901 and went through numerous changes before developing into the game that is played today. One of the most interesting aspects of the early womens college basketball games is that the basket was sewn shut so that the umpire had to remove the ball from it every time it was put through the hoop.
The familiar indoor basketball court that todays womens college basketball teams play on was not always made available to the women for a couple of decades after the sport began. Some womens college basketball teams had to play on grass courts outside and did not have the chance to play on an indoor court at all.