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Women's Basketball: History


Geno Auriemma
UConn Women's Basketball Coach talks about his experience as a coach at a time when views of women in sports were changing. (Makers)

Lisa Leslie
This WNBA pioneer talks about her experience as a founding member of professional women's basketball.  (Makers)

Tamika Catchings
WNBA player talks about her struggle with hearing loss and how basketball changed her life.  (Makers)

Violet Palmer
The first female referee for the NBA  talks about the resistance she faced and the respect she earned. (Makers)

Vivian Stringer
This Champion College Basketball Coach talks about the discrimination women faced in the1970s and 1980s. (Makers)


  • Catch a Star: Shining through Adversity to Become a Champion by Tamika Catchings
  • Counting Coup: A True Story of Basketball and Honor on the Little Big Horn by Larry Coulton
  • The Heart of the Team: Life Lessons On and Off the Court by Bill Resler and Casey McNerthney
  • In These Girls, Hope is a Muscle by Madeleine Blais
  • Shattering the Glass: The Remarkable History of Women's Basketball by Pamela Grundy 
  • Why She Plays: The World of Women's Basketball by Christine A. Baker  

Check out the Women's Hoops Blog for a comprehensive list of books about women's basketball!




Hult, Joan S and Trekell, Marianna, ed., "The Story of Rule Changes" A Century of Women's Basketball,  National Association for Girls and Women in Sports, 1991.  pp. 86-93.

Men's and womens rules both began with the conception of the game by Naismith, but women interpreted the rules differently from the beginning and developed their own game. This publication, offered online in PDF format, provides a comprehensive overview of the evolution of women's basketball from a "ladylike" cooperative sport to a competitive sport.

"They often drag in their wake rowdyism, girls became careless in dress and speech and lost their dignity and womanliness. . . . basket ball is a menace to the growing girl that it unsexes her..."  - Berenson p. 138

1894 (Berenson Rules)

  • Play divided into three courts  - Offensive, Center, Defensive
  • Forwards play only in the offensive court, guards play only in the defensive court, the center plays center court only.  
  • Guarding permitted only on the horizontal plane.
  • Holding the ball longer than three seconds constitutes a foul.
  • Dribbles limited to 3 bounces, above the knee. 
  • Two 15-minute halves.

"Fortunately for the preservation of basket ball, some of us who saw its good points over twenty-odd years ago realized that in order to adapt it to the use of women and girls certain modification would have to be made in the rules and regulations then governing the game. The hair pulling, face slapping, clinching, striking and kicking contests that led up to this decision are all vividly in mind. . All of this barbaric rudeness, ill temper and unsportsmanlike conduct was largely eliminated by adopting what is known as the line game" - Dudley R. Sargent

1901 (Spalding Rules)

  • The pronounce she was used for players, and the pronoun he was used for all officials (until 1914).
  • Halves were shortened from 20 minutes to 15 minutes to make the game less strenuous for girls.
  • Rushing to receive the ball out of bounds is not allowed, replaced with awarding the ball out of bounds to avoid injury,
  • Teams were required to have at least 6 to 9 players so that a single person did not have to play center continuously.
  • Boxing up a shooting player,  placing a hand on a ball already held by an opponent are considered fouls.
  • The bounce pass is not allowed. (1906)
  • Point awarded to the team of any player fouled three times. (1906)
  • Players with four fouls are out of the game. (1906)

The training of our girls in basket ball, under perhaps a little more careful watch of coaches and the Department of Physical Education, cannot fail to give us better women for the mothers of the next generation."  ~Edward Hitchcock, American Physical Education Association 


  • Dribbling not allowed. (1910)
  • Winning team expected to host a dinner for the losing team. (1910)
  • Very slim girls were considered malnourished and unable to play. (1913)
  • Overweight girls were restricted due to the strenuous nature of the game and the risks to heart and lung. (1913)
  • "Peculiar Diseases" (menstruation, pregnancy, etc.) complicated things.  Girls would not be allowed to play during the first three days of her period. (1913)
  • Dribbling reinstated.
  • Smaller courts could be divided into two, rather than three parts.  The center could play the entire court if only 5 players were on the court. This resulted in faster play!
  • Coaching from the sidelines not allowed.  No time outs, no substitutions except at halftime. (1916)
  • Player benched on the 5th foul. (1917)
  • Center on 5 player/short court teams can shoot for a goal. (1917)
  • Bounce pass legalized. (1918)
  • Substitutions allowed to enter the game once. (1918)
  • Center no longer allowed to shoot. (1918)
  • three 5 minute time outs allowed (1918)

Basket ball . . . is by far the best to teach the importance of team play; to teach co-operation; to teach the value of subordinating one's self for the good of the team for the cause most necessary traits to develop in woman of to-day."


  • Two-handed overhead shot worth only 1 point. (1921)
  • Shift from five to at least six players.  (1922)
  • Tie games stand to eliminate the overly competitive nature of the game. (1922)
  • 4 quarters replace 2 halves. (1924)
  • no coaching between quarters. (1924)
  • 1 point shots include (1925):
    • one-handed overhead shot
    • two-handed underhand throw with back to the basket
    • shot put throw  
  • Five 2-minute time-outs. (1926)


  • Guarding permitted on any plane (horizontal, vertical, diagonal) (1932)
  • All goals = 2 pts. (1932)
  • Two 1-minute time-outs per game. (1935)
  • Teams in play are six players. (1938)
  • Two court game used on small courts applied to all court sizes.  (1938)
  • Three forwards played in the Offensive Court, and three guards played in the Defensive court.  Guards may not shoot.  Center position eliminated.  (1938)
  • Three 1-minute time-outs per game. (1939)
  • Girls still advised to not play during first two days of period. (1939)


  • Time out for all fouls and free-throws.
  • Guarding redefined to allow player to use any part of the body on any plane, as long as they do not touch the other player.
  • Dribble limited to two-bounce, any height.


  • Two-point, sudden-death overtime allowed, with coaches caused to take care with "overly fatigued players" in overtime.
  • Three second lane violation added.
  • Rebound and continued play on missed free throw.


  • No face gaurding within three feet, 
  • no two gaurd trapping with arm extended.
  • 3 bounce dribble reinstated (1961)
  • Tying the ball allowed if no contact is made with opponent's hands. (1962)
  • Two players permitted to "rove" the court and play both positions. (1962) New Jersey played this version until 1975. 
  • Three second rule eliminated. (1965)
  • Holding both arms extended horizontally is prohibited. (1965)
  • unlimited, continuous dribble allowed. (1966)


  • Title IX passes. (1972)
  • 5 man full-court play adopted most places. 
  • Last 6-on-6 game played in Texas (1978)


  • Smaller ball instituted (1 inch less, 2 oz. lighter)
  • Iowa allows schools option to play 5 or 6 man game.  (1985)
  • 1990 329 high schools in Iowa still played 6 man.  99 played 5 man. (1985)


  • Last 6-on-6 game played in Iowa.
  • Last 6-on-6 game played in Oklahoma


6 on 6 Rules

"In 1934 girls started playing a two-court, six-on-six game that put three forwards and three guards on each side of a center line they weren't allowed to cross." This video from Iowa Public Television explains the rules of the game.

Library Information and Media Center - Monona Grove High School - Monona, Wisconsin

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