Dorothy Seymour Mills is one of the great baseball historians of all time. But you probably never heard of her.
Instead, she worked alongside her late husband, Harold Seymour. From 1960-1990; he received all the credit and did become famous in his field. Together they completed three of the earliest and most widely read books on baseball history.
First in the Field is Dorothy’s belated claim to her own life’s work. In it, she reveals her approach to baseball history, pervasive attitudes about woman interested in baseball, her reasons for finally demanding the credit she deserves so late in life and her struggle for recognition after her husband’s death.
The short eBook reads more like a research paper than a memoir. But then, the author is after all first and foremost a historical researcher. First in the Field moves through her personal and professional history much as an encyclopedia entry might, chronologically from fact to fact, event to event. Readers will not find much in the way of literary language: Dorothy’s narrative is told without literary flourish or thematic subtlety.
Yet despite the stylistic simplicity, or perhaps because of its straightforwardness and lack of pretense, the story will tug at the heartstrings of anyone who has experienced discrimination. And in recognition that one’s personal story is also political, Dorothy ties the personal injustices she faced to the widespread marginalization of women—both historians and players—in baseball culture.
When she approached her husband before publication of the final volume of their three-part baseball history, asking him (asking, mind you!) if her name could be placed next to his as co-author, he refused. It was not until he died that Dorothy began to seek recognition for her life’s work among the baseball community.
Several short anecdotes endear the reader to Dorothy, providing glimpses of what it might have been like for a woman, attempting to work as a baseball researcher and writer around mid-20th century. For example, she shocked the cigar smoking men of the St. Louis Sporting News one day when she appeared in a baby blue suit and gloves in search of microfilm records for her research.
Dorothy speaks about her own inaction without belittling herself. Her story is not spun as one of an oppressed and helpless female bound to a misogynistic husband. Neither embittered nor resentful about her past, Dorothy unapologetically explains how she had no way of seeing past her responsibility as a dutiful wife in a time when that was glorified as the primary achievement of a middle-class woman.
While some might hold Dorothy accountable for her submission to the will of a dishonest husband who intellectually abused her, First in the Field forces readers to be mindful of the conventions of the place and time in which she was conducting her research. There is something graceful in the way she communicates how she has forgiven herself for her passivity and forgiven Harold for stubbornly refusing to grant her the credit that she was due.
Even as second wave feminists were fighting for women’s rights in the workplace, expectations of wives were so deeply rooted in American ideologies of the middle class family that it was difficult for even the strongest women of Dorothy’s generation to see beyond their roles in relation to their husbands and other men in their professional fields. She was certainly not the first or the last woman in that situation. It calls to mind Francis Crick and James Watson, who received the Nobel Prize for work that they had usurped from their colleague Rosalind Franklin’s research on DNA in the 1960’s.
Fortunately, things have changed considerably. A young woman told me of a friend who works for an engineering firm. The friend said she has actually benefitted from being a woman today working in the sciences. Because there are fewer women than men who receive science or math related degrees, women are given a leg up as employers and educators seek them out in an effort to diversify the student body and workforce. It’s heartening to know that younger women are much more acutely aware of the power they have in their hands.
First in the Field offers its readers insight into the history behind gender-based affirmative action policies that are now implemented in many institutions, and shows why they are needed. This small book is first and foremost not a polemic but the story of how one woman persevered, found ways to use her considerable talents despite social and personal constraints, and finally settled the score by claiming credit on her own terms.
For media coverage of Dorothy’s struggle for recognition from the Society of American Baseball Research, follow the following links:
The New York Times: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/07/sports/baseball/07sabr.html
To purchase the ebook, click here: https://www.bestthinking.com/invitation/welcome?messageType=22
Gloria Feldt is the author of No Excuses: 9 Ways Women Can Change the Way We Think About Power and an inspirational keynote speaker on women, power, and leadership. See more about the book here. Engage Gloria for a Speech or Workshop here.