An outstanding athlete

In 1920s and ’30s Chicago, Anne Goldstein made her Eastern European immigrant parents proud via her basketball and softball achievements.

By RENÉE LEVINE MELAMMED
August 14, 2014 16:36
4 minute read.
 Girls team

The Jewish People’s Institute Girls team pose for a group photo, 1928.. (photo credit: COURTESY LEWIS UNIVERSITY LIBRARY)

The Chicago Jewish community was interested in developing a program for youth involving recreation and athletics as early as the 1920s. It seems that there was an ulterior motive involved; namely, the aim to Americanize and speed up the assimilation of the children of mainly Eastern European immigrants.

If this project succeeded, then the non-athletic image accorded the Jew would begin to dissipate.

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Fortunately, these opportunities were open to boys as well as girls, although at first girls’ basketball was played according to rather restrictive and far less aggressive rules.

Robert Pruter researched the athletic career of one young woman, Anne Goldstein, whose impressive achievements are worth noting. [See “Anne Goldstein: Putting the Lie in Chicago to the Unathletic Jewish Female,” Nashim 26 (2014)].

Goldstein, the daughter of Russian immigrants, was born in Chicago in 1913 and was interested in the activities offered by the former Chicago Hebrew Institute, renamed in 1922 the Jewish People’s Institute. They sponsored classes and competitive teams in basketball, volleyball and softball.

Goldstein played all three sports but was most talented in basketball and softball, joining the girls’ basketball team at the age of 14. She was apparently a terrific athlete, fast on her feet, successful as a guard and the highest scorer on the team.

That year, her team won 29 of 30 games because in addition to the presence of their youngest player, they had some other excellent players in their midst. These teams traveled fairly extensively and were in demand.

Goldstein was not a tall girl, perhaps 5’3” (160 cm.), but strong, fast and with good reflexes. The local papers began to mention her name in their sports reporting, often including a photo of the young star.

In 1928, she tried her hand at volleyball – which she played well, but not as well as the other two sports. When a softball team was formed in 1930, Goldstein and her basketball cohorts joined it.

This group was incredibly successful; Goldstein discovered she was also a talented softball player, apparently the best in the group. She was named captain of the team, and could be found on the pitcher’s mound or in the shortstop’s position.

Meanwhile, because of budgetary difficulties, the program for amateur basketball players lost its funding in 1932. That fall, three of the basketball players were acquired by a team funded by a coal supply company. These teammates helped to win tournaments; Goldstein was often the top scorer at their games.

In Chicago, the girls followed the men’s rules and had no difficulty playing more aggressively on the court. Two years later, she joined a new team when the previous one was disbanded.

Moving back and forth between sports did not faze this athlete, who then played softball in the Chicago Major Girls Softball League. During this time, Goldstein mastered the fast pitch. She also met Hy Gomberg, a local coach; the two were married in June 1934.

By 1937, this 24-year-old was no longer as quick on her feet as in her youth, but she nevertheless continued to play as a member of a girls’ basketball team. Her body had changed and fortunately for her, she had gained strength. As a result, when she played softball, this enabled her to hit the ball more powerfully and improve her pitching. She was also an impressive shortstop.

At one point, her husband was the coach of her team. Goldstein seems to have played as late as 1945, even serving as catcher and being lauded as one of the city’s finest female athletes.

After she and her husband moved to California that summer, Goldstein does not seem to have pursued her career on the West Coast. Hy became a scout for various baseball teams, so the couple clearly did not turn its back on the world of sports.

Goldstein died in March 1983. Perhaps if she had remained in Chicago, she would have been better remembered, for she had an active role in the development of sports and athleticism in that city.

Opportunities for female athletes during the Depression and World War II years were not so easily obtained. In addition, some families might have objected to their daughters’ participation in these rather non-ladylike activities. However, among the anxious-to-assimilate-and-Americanize Eastern European immigrants were daughters who made them proud, had phenomenal athletic ability and could realize their potential on the court or on the field.

Anne Goldstein is an impressive example of such an athlete, who was recognized in the press and in her community, scoring and leading the way as a basketball and softball player in the Chicago Jewish environs for almost 20 years. 

The writer is a professor of Jewish history at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, and the academic editor of the journal Nashim.


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