Baseball History: Reflections & Family Story Activities

The Informal Learning Office recently finished a summer reading partnership with the Washington Nationals baseball team. Over the course of the summer, we met over 600 participants at Nationals Park. During the program, we shared Library of Congress collection items with children who came to celebrate reading with relief pitcher Sean Doolittle. Children learned the interesting history of famed seventh inning stretch song Take Me Out to the Ball Game, which was registered for copyright at the Library in 1908, and they heard our retelling of Abbott and Costello’s act, Who’s on First, which was added to the National Recording Registry in 2002. Behind the scenes, we chatted about baseball stories in our family history. See what we discovered and learn how you can do your own family research with our activities at the end!

Part One: Margaret Windham, Washington Senators Secretary

My grandmother, Margaret Windham, grew up in Washington, D.C. When she was a young woman, she was the private secretary for Clark Griffith, the owner of the Washington Senators. She worked for him before, during, and after World War II. She shared interesting stories about the people she met at the team office, like heavyweight boxing champion, Joe Lewis.

Photograph shows baseball players on the field during a game at Ebbets Field with grandstands and light towers in the background, in Brooklyn, New York.

Night baseball game at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn, New York, 1940.

My grandmother was also witness to—and a little part of—history during the war effort. During World War II, baseball fans feared that all night games might be stopped for possible blackouts in cities. Not all teams had stadium lighting yet. However, President Roosevelt actually suggested more night games so that Americans who worked day shifts could get to the ballparks after work for some relaxation and fun. Roosevelt was committed to keeping Major League Baseball going, even though most of the players fit for the wartime effort had been drafted or enlisted.

In 1942, MLB answered by voting to allow all clubs to play 14 night games—with the exception of the Washington Senators, who could play 21 games. President Roosevelt, in a later conversation with Clark Griffith at the White House, shared that he credited himself with bringing nighttime baseball to America. Clark Griffith agreed with FDR. The two shared correspondence, visits, and ideas throughout the war. All this time, my grandmother was the person typing away on the Washington Senators typewriter while Clark Griffith dictated letters to FDR.

President Roosevelt, with arm raised to throw, tosses out first ball from the crowded stands at Griffith Stadium. The seal of the President of the United States and red and white striped bunting adorn the railing in front of him.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt tosses out first ball at Washington Senators opening day in Washington, D.C., on April 14, 1936. In this photograph, L To R: Secretary Marvin McIntyre; Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr.; Mrs. Franklin D. Roosevelt, Jr.; President Roosevelt; Joe McCarthy, Yankee Manager; Buckey Harris, Senator’s Leader; Clark Griffith, President of the Washington Baseball Club; and William Harridge, President of the American League.

Clark Griffith was also Director General of the “Ball and Bat Fund” or Baseball Equipment Fund, an initiative that sent baseball equipment to U.S. military bases around the world so the troops could play ball for enjoyment and exercise.

I wonder if my grandfather, stationed in Germany, ever had the chance to use any of that equipment provided by the major league teams. My grandmother told me that Clark Griffith knew she was nervous about my grandfather in combat in Europe and he offered to reach out to his contacts to get a report on granddad’s wellbeing. My research placed Griffith’s individual act of thoughtfulness into a larger context, as I realized that his kindness to our troops went well beyond checking on my grandfather.

Activity

Through the Library of Congress collections, I was able to learn more about my grandmother’s life. I searched “baseball” and “World War II” on LOC.gov, which connected me to resources that showed me more about life on the home front.

Next time you have a family tree or genealogy project, you can add to family stories with Library of Congress resources. If you already know family stories:

  • Research the professions and locations of your ancestors on LOC.gov.
  • If you know what jobs your ancestors may have had (such as if your grandfather always told stories about how his father was a cook) research the profession. Use “cook” as a keyword search on LOC.gov.
  • What was daily life like?
  • Are there any photos that show working conditions in their industry?
  • How did the area where they lived look at that time?
  • What were people wearing?

If you don’t have any family stories to start your research journey, it’s never too late to start preserving your family stories. Check out this resource!

As the baseball season winds down and we inch closer to the holidays, I look forward to showing my family what I found while researching my grandmother’s work life with the Washington Senators. We wish you an illuminating hunt into your own family history!

Next week we learn about Alli’s grandfather, Adolf Marocco, and his connections to barrier-breakers of the Negro Leagues!

For more information on baseball, and baseball during World War II, please explore the following:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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