A woman with ties to both North and South Dakota was the professional baseball umpire in greatest demand in the Upper Midwest during the first decade of the 20th century.
Amanda Clement was considered such a good umpire that players rarely questioned her calls, and when important tournament games were scheduled, she was one of the first umpires contacted to officiate them. As her reputation grew, fans traveled many miles and crowded into ballparks just to watch this young arbiter oversee a game.
She made national news in 1904 when she became the first female professional umpire, and when she later met President Theodore Roosevelt, he told her that he was well aware of her reputation. Most sources have reported that both Ban Johnson, president of the American League, and Harry Pulliam, president of the National League, tried to persuade her to become a major league umpire, but she reportedly turned them down because she wanted to continue her college education.
After graduating from college, she went into education, becoming a physical education instructor at several schools and YWCAs in Nebraska, Wyoming, Wisconsin, and South and North Dakota, including four years at Jamestown High School in the mid-1920s. There is an exhibit honoring her at the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Amanda Edith Clement was born March 20, 1888, in Hudson, a few miles south of Sioux Falls in Dakota Territory, to Phillip and Harriet (Allen) Clement. Phillip was a farmer who died in 1895 when Amanda was 7 and her brother, Allen, better known as Hank, was 10. To earn money, Harriet took a job serving meals to the railroad workers, and Amanda, although quite young, assisted her mother.
Amanda became very attached to Hank, who was a good athlete, and she frequently accompanied him when he participated in sports on the sandlots of Hudson. When he played baseball with his friends, there were times when one of the teams was a player short and Amanda would fill in, usually at first base, but most of the time she offered to be the umpire.
When she did play, the team likely did not suffer because she was a superb athlete. In school, Amanda “competed in basketball, track, gymnastics, and tennis, and has been attributed (to have held) records in shot put, sprinting, and hurdling.” Athleticism appeared to be genetic since her cousin, Roy “Cy” Parkin, was a good pitcher for the Oakland Oaks of the Pacific Coast League during the early years of the 20th century.
Amanda continued to follow Hank’s baseball career when he became a semipro pitcher for a team from Renville, Minn. In 1904, she and her mother attended a game in Harden, Iowa, where the Renville team was set to play a team from Hawarden, Iowa. Prior to this featured game, there was a preliminary game scheduled between two amateur teams.
By the time the first game was supposed to begin, the contracted umpire had not shown up. Hank informed the game sponsors that Amanda had amateur umpiring experience, and she was hired to do the officiating for the first game. Amanda did such an exceptional job that she was also asked to umpire the featured game. Word got around about the excellent work this 16-year-old girl did in officiating games, and with competing offers, Amanda was soon able to pick and choose which games to serve as umpire.
Amanda was also a terrific fan attraction, and not only did she usually make the right calls, know all the rules and stand her ground when questioned on calls, but word quickly got out that she could not be bribed. Betting on games was prominent at that time, and gamblers often offered money to umpires to make important calls in their favor that could determine the outcome of the game. At the time, only one umpire was usually used to call a game. Most of the umpires stationed themselves behind the pitcher so that they could not only call balls and strikes, but also closely observe the plays made at each base.
Amanda excelled in officiating games, and a newspaper reporter for the Oakland (Calif.) Tribune wrote that Amanda “won a high reputation as an expert and impartial umpire. No male umpire in the country has a better knowledge of the fine points of the game than she, or can give a quicker and more accurate decision when close plays are made.” A South Dakota newspaper hailed Amanda as “the best umpire in the West.”
From 1904 to 1911, Amanda umpired about 50 semipro games each summer in the Dakotas, Nebraska, Minnesota and Iowa, earning between $15 and $25 per game (about $600 today). She saved most of her money for her college education, which began in the fall of 1908 at Yankton College. Being a deeply religious person, she refused to umpire any games on Sundays, and alerted teams that she would not tolerate any disrespectful language or actions during a game, and any players who engaged in it would immediately be ejected.
As Amanda’s popularity grew, game promoters started doing something they had never done before: They listed the name of the umpire on all of the promotional material for games that Amanda would be officiating because she had become a bigger draw than any of the players.
In Oakes, N.D., Amanda and a man were hired to umpire a series of games. After the first game, the fans took up a collection to pay for the man’s transportation back home so that they could watch Amanda officiate all of the games on her own.
We will conclude the story of Amanda Clement next week.
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org.