Book Review: Senda Berenson: The Unlikely Founder of Women’s Basketball

Senda Berenson: The Unlikely Founder of Women’s Basketball is author Ralph Melnick’s biographical account of Senda Berenson (1868-1954), considered by many to be the founder of women’s basketball. She pioneered gender-specific rules and emphasized skill development and team play. She transformed the sport of women’s basketball from a physical education class for female underclassmen at Smith College to a nationwide, standardized-women’s game with rules formally approved by the American Association for the Advancement of Physical Education and published by Spaulding’s Athletic Library.

Senda Berenson: The Unlikely Founder of Women’s Basketball is a “portrait” of Senda Berenson’s life. In sixteen chapters, the author describes Berenson’s modest upbringing as a sickly, young Jewish immigrant from Lithuania, her aspirations to be an artist, her revolutionary and practical applications towards women’s physical education, and her commitment to making exercise and games social and enjoyable. Berenson believed the new age of women dictated that women’s athletics could be used as catalysts for social change. She believed competition created moral bankruptcy. Berenson condemned personal glory, corporate profit, individualism, and the entrepreneurial spirit reflected in men’s

athletics. In qualifying his portrait of Berenson, Ralph Melnick writes:

[T]his book is neither a history of an advancing feminist wave nor a history of early women’s basketball; these stories have been told elsewhere, as has the history of women’s physical education. Rather, it is a step back more than a century, even to those moments before the first ball was tossed at center court, in an attempt to create a portrait of the remarkable women who sent it upward.

Nothing summarizes her better words to her nephew shortly before her death, “Old age is creeping up on me…I suppose that at our age we resign ourselves to the fact that our energy gets weaker and weaker – although I cannot do it with resignation.”

Millions of females throughout the country are reaping the benefits of Berenson’s foresight and fortitude. Her contributions to basketball have solidified her place in the Basketball Hall of Fame.

This book is an ideal text for those interested in the history of women’s sport or in the life of a remarkable American figure.

Author: Ralph Melnick
Published in 2007 by University of Massachusetts Press
(221 pages, ISBN: 1-55849-568-1)


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