As professional athletes faced erasure and discrimination in their sports and teams due to cultural stereotypes, many lesbians and queer women embraced the masculinity associated with athletics and created their own sports team where they could express themselves freely in physical ways. Lesbian leagues for sports like softball, basketball, bowling, and rugby began emerging across the country and quickly became an established pillar of lesbian subculture and community.
Softball in particular became a popular sport among lesbians, with softball teams and leagues emerging across the country, including in Western Massachusetts. The Mary Vasquez Women’s Softball League was founded in 1977 by Jean Grossholtz, Eileen Stewart, Susan Tracy, and Maryann Jennings to provide a feminist sports center and social space for lesbians and women in the Pioneer Valley. The league began with six teams in 1977, including Common Womon, Hot Flashes, Woman Rising, and No Nukes of the North, and would eventually grow to over fifteen teams. Although some heterosexual women joined the league in its early years, most dropped out due to league’s predominant lesbian demographic. The league continues to play today with ten current teams, and welcomes women of all abilities and sexualities.
The gallery below shows pictures of the Mary Vasquez Softball League from the 1980s, 1990s, and early 2000s. For more information about the league, check out the Valley Women’s History Collaborative, the League’s current website, or the oral history project now located in the UMass Amherst Special Collections.