One of the leading female sports pioneers in the U.S. later became a physical education instructor in Jamestown, N.D.
Records show that Amanda Clement was the first female professional baseball umpire, and it appears that she also may have been the first professional female basketball referee when she began officiating high school games while attending Yankton College in South Dakota. Amanda is credited with establishing many school sports records while at Yankton.
When she accepted the offer to umpire a game at Hawarden, Iowa, in 1904, umpiring was rarely a pleasant experience. Umpires received “physical and verbal abuse from fans and players alike. They were routinely spiked, kicked, cursed, and spat upon by players, while fans hurled vile epithets and all manner of debris. Mobbing and physical assaults were frequent, so much so that police escorts were familiar.”
The possibility of abuse did not deter Clement from serving as umpire as she bravely took her position on the field and called the game exactly as she saw it. From 1904 to 1911, she umpired about 50 semipro games each summer in the Dakotas, Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa. The players were amazed with her confidence and the accuracy and fairness that she demonstrated during the game. “Amanda was so good at her job that she got calls from all over the Midwest to umpire.”
Very rarely did she experience the abuse that most male umpires endured, and she believed it was because ballplayers were on their best behavior when a female was making all the calls. In 1906, Clement “wrote an editorial for the Cincinnati Enquirer, arguing that women made better umpires than men,” and the story was picked up by newspapers all over the U.S.
One person who was closely observing Clement and her effectiveness as an umpire was Ban Johnson, president of the American League in major league baseball. With the formation of the American League in 1901, Johnson was given the position of president, and his objective was to develop “a clean alternative to the National League.” He believed a key to this was in the hiring of knowledgeable, honest and efficient umpires. Once that was completed, “Johnson insisted that umpires be respected, and (he) backed up his words by supporting their decision and suspending players who were guilty of flagrant misconduct.”
Since Clement appeared to have all of the qualifications that Johnson wanted in an umpire, she was offered a position as a major league umpire, but turned it down. There appears to be only one ballplayer to have tested Clement's patience, and that was Toots Thompson, a journeyman ballplayer whose best season was with the 1908 Fargo Browns of the Northern League. Clement “refused to umpire any games Thompson played in.”
Clement attended high school at the Yankton Academy, where she excelled in all sports. In 1905, she established a national record for females by tossing a baseball 179 feet. During her senior year, in 1906, she was captain of the women’s basketball team that went 15-1.
In 1908, Clement enrolled at Yankton College with the intention of becoming a doctor, but sports dominated her time in school. She was involved in all facets of track and field and played basketball. It has been reported that she set “records in the shot put, sprints, hurdles, high jump, and broad jump” and was called “the best female tennis player in South Dakota.”
That same year, Clement also began officiating high school basketball games, and there is speculation that she may have also become the nation’s first professional female basketball referee.
In 1910, Clement transferred to the University of Nebraska, where she later completed her degree in physical education. While there, she also taught some courses and worked at the YWCA. In 1912, she established a “women’s world record by throwing a baseball 275 feet.”
Following graduation from the university, she went to Lacrosse, Wis., where she managed the YWCA and “sponsored tennis tournaments.” In January 1914, Clement took and passed a test to become only the second female police officer in Wisconsin, but ended up turning down the position because of a mysterious physical malady.
Clement then returned home to Hudson, S.D., to try and recuperate, and doctors there discovered that she was suffering from appendicitis. After surgery and recuperation, she taught gym classes in Hudson, and then on Feb. 1, 1916, Clement was hired by the University of Wyoming to be a physical education instructor.
The head of the department of physical education was John Corbett, who was also the head football coach. Clement convinced Corbett to encourage all of his football players to enroll in her dance class in hopes that it would improve their footwork.
In the mid-1920s, Clement taught physical education at Jamestown high school for four years, and in 1929, returned to Hudson to care for her ailing mother. While in Hudson, she worked for the hometown weekly newspaper, served as the town’s assessor and coached the women’s basketball team.
Following her mother’s death in 1932, Clement moved to Sioux Falls, S.D., where she became a social worker. She never married, claiming at one point early in her career, “I’m wedded to baseball.”
Amanda Clement died on July 20, 1971. She was elected to the South Dakota Sports Hall of Fame in 1964, and in 2011 her biography, "Umpire in a Skirt," was published.
In 2014, she was inducted into the Yankton College Alumni Hall of Fame, and just two months ago, Amanda was one of the people honored by the War on Women organization as “a woman of achievement who has been ignored by history books.”
“Did You Know That” is written by Curt Eriksmoen and edited by Jan Eriksmoen of Fargo. Send your comments, corrections, or suggestions for columns to the Eriksmoens at email@example.com.