Looking Back At Women’s History in Everett
Editor’s Note: The following is the first in a month-long series about noteworthy women in Everett, taken from vignettes written by former City Clerk Michael Matarazzo in his book ‘They Came from Everett.’ The histories of many women of Everett are stunning, with women playing a role in so many early parts of the formation of the country.
When one speaks of the best athletes to come out of the City of Everett, one name must be included Madeline “Maddy” English.
Born in Everett on February 22, 1925, to Ambrose T. English, a pipe-fitter and Everett City official who once served a term as acting Mayor, and Anna (Henneberry) English, Maddy grew up admiring her big brother, Edward, who was a star third baseman on the high school team.
Unlike Edward, Maddy did not enjoy the privilege of playing high school sports because there were no organized girls’ interscholastic sports. Not to be deterred, English, as young as 10 years old, would play pick-up games of baseball with the boys or travel to the neighboring cities to play pickup softball games. In 1938, while playing for an Everett team called the Melly Club, she tried out for the Boston Olympets, a women’s softball team that played in the Boston Garden and was created by Boston Garden owner, Walter Brown, to draw crowds to the Garden during the summer “off season.” The 13-year-old Maddy did not make the team that was comprised of older players, but was assigned to the Olympet’s major feeder team, the Gladiolas.
The team played throughout New England and New York and in 1943, a baseball scout who remembered seeing Maddy play and was impressed with her skill at third base, invited her to a tryout at Wrigley Field in Chicago for the newly formed All-American Girls Professional Baseball League (AAGPBL). The league was designed to maintain the public interest in baseball since WWII was taking so many of Major League Baseball’s top stars and totally emptying the minor leagues to fill the ranks of the armed services.
The AAGBBL held tryouts throughout the United States and attracted women from all over the U.S. and Canada. The best 280 players were invited to Wrigley Field where the final 60 would be chosen as the first women to ever play professional baseball and assigned to a team. Maddy English was one of the 60 and was assigned to the Racine Belles.
The 1943 Racine Belles, managed by former Chicago Black Hawk and two-time Stanley Cup Champion Johnny Gottselig, had it all – timely hitting, outstanding defense and speed on the base paths. It is no wonder that they won the first AAGBBL Championship by sweeping the Kenosha Comets three games to none.
The next two seasons saw the Belles finish in fourth place, but in 1946 the Belles were back on top. Under new manager Leo Murphy, a journeyman minor league catcher who had a cup of coffee with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1915, the Belles finish first in the league and won the playoff championship. In the first round of the 1946 the Racine Belles won best-of-five series over the South Bend Blue Sox, three games to one. It was Maddy’s heroics that made the difference in that series. In game one, she drove in the winning run in extra innings by hitting a double in the bottom half of the 14th inning. Then, in the critical Game 4, she provided more extra-inning excitement by knocking in the winning run with a single in the bottom half of the 17th inning. Truly the MVP of the first round, she went 11-for-31 for a .353 average, including her two game-winning RBIs.
Maddy was all business and didn’t like distractions. Maddy once told a sportswriter who wouldn’t stop pestering her: “If you don’t leave me alone, I’m going to jump in Lake Michigan.” He didn’t. She did, and had to be fished out.
Maddy was selected as the 1946 All-Star Team’s third basemen; a feat she would repeat in 1948 and 1949. Despite her low batting average (.171), the AAGPBL was definitely a pitchers’ league (the 1945 AAGPBL batting championship was won with a .299 average), Maddy made every hit count. In her career she scored 357 runs, stole 439 bases (including a league record 7 in one game), hit 13 home runs, and drove in 209 RBIs. An outstanding fielder at the hot corner, Maddy posted a .896 fielding average, including 1,439 putouts, 2,255 assists, and 106 double plays.
While Maddy was participating in the 1947 season, things where happening back home in Everett. On July 17, 1947 Everett’s 44-year-old, popular mayor Frank E. Lewis died from acute hepatitis and as President of the Board of Aldermen, her father Ambrose was sworn-in as acting Mayor. “Ham,” as Ambrose was called, served as acting Mayor until January 1948 when the newly–elected Mayor took office. Ham then returned the Board of Alderman to which the voters had recently reelected him.
After the 1950 season, word came down that the Belles were going to move to Battle Creek, Michigan. Maddy and a number of the other veteran Bells including stars Eleanor Dapkus and Sophie Kury were not interested in starting over in a new location and decided prior to the 1951 season not to make the move.
In preparation for this day, Maddy had been attending Boston University during the off-season since 1948 to attain her degree. After nine years of combining baseball and education, Maddy earned a B.S. degree in education in 1957 and a Master’s degree in 1962. After working for a while for the Everett Recreation Department, Maddy began a lengthy career in the Everett Public Schools as a teacher and eventually a guidance counselor at the Parlin Junior High School. She retired in 1984.
In November 1988, the Baseball Hall of Fame dedicated a permanent display to the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. This was followed by the 1992 film A League of Their Own that put the league back into the conscientiousness of the American public. Maddy, like the other players, enjoyed having their experience introduced to a new generation.
Maddy English has been inducted into the Boston University Athletics Hall of Fame, the Women in Sports Hall of Fame, and the Sports Museum of New England.
Shortly before her death at the age of 79, the City of Everett dedicated one of it new schools located on the site of the old Babe Ruth Park as the Madeline English School a fitting tribute to a great athlete and a dedicated educator.