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Senda Berenson, Mother of Women’s Basketball

February 16, 2018

Senda Berenson (Valvrojenski), the first woman inaugurated into the Basketball Hall of Fame, died on this date in 1954. Known as “The Mother of Women’s Basketball,” she was the first physical education instructor at Smith College, and in 1893 she conducted the first women’s basketball game — sophomores against freshmen. Six years later, she modified the rules of men’s basketball to establish the women’s game. Her rulebook stressed cooperation over individual competitive play, with three zones and six players on each team. To ensure decorum and prevent her students from developing “dangerous nervous tendencies and losing the grace and dignity and self-respect we would all have [women] foster,” Berenson forbade stealing the ball, holding it for more than three seconds, or dribbling it more than three times. A proto-advocate of the concept of equal pay for equal work, she believed that women needed to “develop health and endurance if they desire to become candidates for equal wages.” Berenson was born in what is now Lithuania in 1868 and immigrated to the United States with her family at the age of seven.

“The great evil in our athletics today is that we lose sight of all things except the desire to win—to win by fair means or foul—to beat the other side. Hence the importance of the recreation side—the joy in playing—is entirely lost.” —Senda Berenson