A women's basketball uniform from 2020 sits on display next to a uniform from the 1920s.

Modern uniform and 1920s uniform

The Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame is the only facility in the world dedicated to all levels of women’s basketball. Join us as we compare the sport from 100 years ago to today!

A century ago, there was no ESPN, no live-sport channels where you can flip on the TV and be able to cheer on your favorite teams, and there certainly were few ways to watch women’s basketball. The 1920s saw a change in women’s basketball with there being many more opportunities for women to participate in team play. In 2020, women’s basketball has changed but the desire to want to better the game remains the same.

In the 1920s, it was common to see women’s basketball players wearing very conservative uniforms that would only show their hands, neck, and head. Players typically wore a floor-length wool skirt, a high collar linen shirt, woolen stockings, and Converse All Star shoes. Players were distinguished by team depending on the colored scarf they wore around their necks. Today’s players are typically seen wearing a jersey with their team’s colors, basketball shorts, and custom basketball shoes that the player can choose of their liking.

The 1920s are considered the “Golden Age of Sports” because there were more opportunities for sponsored sports teams. This allowed women to be able to compete at a higher level. In 1924, the International Women’s Sports Federation was formed which led to more competitions being held for women. This same year was the first time that the Olympics included women’s basketball as an exhibition event, but women were still able to participate.

Competition today is very different including the level that female players can compete in. The United States Olympic Team has the longest winning streak for women’s basketball, winning 48 consecutive games since the 1996 summer games. Women’s competition has also expanded today from women just being able to compete with sponsored sports teams to now being able to play professionally in the Women’s National Basketball Association.

Before going to the professional level, most players participate in their high school basketball teams. In 1925, 37 states participated in high school varsity games and tournaments for women’s basketball. Ninety-five years later, and now all 50 states participate in their local state tournaments. In 1926, the Amateur Athletic Union (AAU) sanctioned their first women’s basketball national tournament in Pasadena, California. Hundreds of women’s basketball players today get their first experience playing basketball through AAU play and the tradition continues of different tournaments being held across the nation.

1920s Basketball Rule Book2020 Basketball Rule Book

1920 and 2020 Women’s Basketball Official Rule Books

This picture shows how a different 1920s and a modern-day basketball can be.

1920s and Modern Basketball

If you were to turn on ESPN during the day and watch a Lady Vols basketball game, you are going to see players following the updated rules that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has put in place for them. These rules differ from those of the Women’s National Basketball Association (WNBA), which professional players must follow. The rule book that was followed during the 1920-21 season was printed by Spalding’s Athletic Library and followed updated rules that Senda Berenson had created when she created the original rules for the sport in 1892. The rule books changed with the times and with the advancement of the sport.

Players today are used to playing with a Wilson or Spalding basketball and being able to dribble the ball up and down the court prior to shooting a basket. In the 1920s, players spent more time passing the ball to the hoop than they did dribbling. A ball from the 1920s looks drastically different from that of today with laces running up one of the sides like a football. A basketball today is more smoothed around the sides with the composite leather covering the ball. Back in the 1920s, balls were not always the smoothest and they often had bumps on them which made it harder to dribble them, hence why the passing game was more popular.

A group photo shows how the women's Seattle Storm basketball team looks.

Seattle Storm Team

Rosters today are filled with more players than the whole team that was playing in the 1920s. For the 2020 WNBA Champion Seattle Storm, they have 12 players on their roster in comparison to a team in the 1920s who had a 9-person roster. While there are more people on the full roster today, more people could play on the court in the 1920s. It was expected to have nine players on the court versus the other team. Today, all games are five on five matchups with additional players sitting on the sideline.

Women back in the 1920s were on the cutting-edge of being able to participate in basketball competitions. Women today can take their passion for basketball and play at the levels of college or professionally. Today there are opportunities for women’s basketball that were most likely not considered in the 1920s the game continues to grow and advance.

Next time you watch a women’s college basketball game or a WNBA game, take a moment to look at the uniforms of the players and notice how each member of the team is not rocking wool stockings. Or even look at the shape of the basketball and acknowledge that there is not a large lace string securing the ball together. When the ball begins to dribble down the court, remember that only five players are allowed from each team and that the rules established back in the 1920s helped to form the rules that players follow today. While women’s basketball today looks significantly different than that of the 1920s, it is evident that the passion for the game holds true.

Come visit the Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame to see a then and now of the sport for yourself!


Originally posted 12.17.20