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Speaking Volumes: Remembering Helen Callaghan St. Aubin, a women’s baseball pioneer

March 13 marks the posthumous 90th birthday of Helen Callaghan St. Aubin.

During the 1940s, she was a star player for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League. St. Aubin, known professionally by her maiden name, Helen Callaghan, was recruited along with her sister Margaret Maxwell to the newly proposed AAGPBL.

This women’s league flourished during a time where many major leaguers were called off to war.

Although you may not know her name, you have probably heard her story. Callaghan’s experience as one of the women playing professional baseball in the United States during World War II inspired the film “A League of Their Own.”

Starring Geena Davis, Tom Hanks and Madonna, the 1992 film has inspired decades of female athletes and other young women.

The story of Helen Callaghan St. Aubin is a greater reflection of how women’s roles changed during World War II.

Many women during this time stepped into nontraditional roles as they filled the place of enlisted men in the workforce. It may surprise you to learn that this even extended to professional ballplayers.

The All-American Girls Professional Baseball League was created by Phillip K. Wrigley, owner of the Chicago Cubs. Wrigley had been informed by the U.S. Office of War Information that the 1943 Major League Baseball season may need to be canceled because of a shortage of available men.

To ensure that ballparks across the country would not sit empty were the shutdown to happen, Wrigley created the so-called “lipstick league” of 15 teams comprised of young white women from all over the United States and Canada.

The 1943 Major League Baseball season went on as originally planned, but minor league baseball was suspended. AAGPBL teams such as the Grand Rapids Chicks and Kalamazoo Lassies filled that gap as they toured small cities across the Midwest.

Although these games may have started as simply a spectacle for those amused by the idea of women holding their own on the baseball diamond, the teams quickly gained fans in both men and women.

Although the AAGPBL ended in 1954, Callaghan regained notoriety in the early 1990s when her son, Kelly Candaele, produced “A League of Their Own,” a documentary featuring Helen, her sister and many of the other ballplayers from the AAGPBL.

The documentary then inspired the feature film of the same name for which Candaele wrote the story line. The film premiered in July 1992 to commercial and critical success. Callaghan saw her story on the big screen before she passed later that year.

For those looking for more about women’s participation in professional baseball, check out Barbara Gregorich’s “Women at Play: The Story of Women in Baseball.”

For a history of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, check out “Belles of the Ballpark” by Diana Star Helmer.

The library also has several copies of the feature film, “A League of Their Own.”

Call your local branch for more information on available titles.

Central Library — 941-748-5555;

Braden River — 941-727-6079;

Island — 941-778-6341;

Palmetto — 941-722-3333;

Rocky Bluff — 941-723-4821;

South Manatee — 941-755-3892.

You also can access the library via the internet at mymanatee.org/library.

Katie Fleck is a librarian at the Central Library in downtown Bradenton. Speaking Volumes, written by Manatee County Public Library System staff members, is published each Sunday in the Bradenton Herald.

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