A bowling league of their own

 

The Women’s Bowling League of Manistee played their inaugural season in the bowling alley of Frank DeCair in 1937. That same year, DeCair opened up a new alley, called Manistee Recreation Parlor, on the second floor of the Larsen Building (today’s Jackpine Business Center) which is located on the southeast corner of River and Greenbush streets. (Courtesy photo)

The Women’s Bowling League of Manistee played their inaugural season in the bowling alley of Frank DeCair in 1937. That same year, DeCair opened up a new alley, called Manistee Recreation Parlor, on the second floor of the Larsen Building (today’s Jackpine Business Center) which is located on the southeast corner of River and Greenbush streets. (Courtesy photo)

Throughout history, when we think of the topics that have brought momentous strides in gender equality, the game of bowling probably isn’t one of the first ones that comes to mind. While there were many local women who bowled when the sport was becoming popular, it wasn’t until the late 1930s that a league consisting only of women was formed in Manistee.

During the first few decades of the 20th century, one of the sports that was becoming increasingly popular was the indoor recreation game of bowling. To this end, bowling alleys began to be set up in more and more cities across the nation. In Manistee, one of the first bowling alleys to come along was operated by partners Antwin Clement and Frank DeCair, who opened their business at 409 River St. in the mid-1910s.

Similar to just about every sport in and around that time, the game was often perceived as being a sport in which only men would play and/or excel at.

By the 1930s, DeCair had become sole owner of the bowling business and in 1937 was looking for a building where he would be able to construct a new bowling alley inside. He eventually settled on the second floor of the Larsen Building (351-355 River St.) above the then A&P Store.

As word got out that a new alley, which DeCair called the Manistee Recreation Parlor, would be put in place for the 1937-38 bowling season, it was decided by Mrs. Estelle Lewis to form a local women’s bowling league. The announcement of a meeting to organize the league was published in the Manistee News Advocate on Sept. 21, 1937:

“All women interested in bowling are invited by Mrs. Estelle Lewis to attend a meeting at her home, 459 Second Street, Thursday evening at 7 o’clock. The purpose of the meeting is to provide an opportunity for the organization of a women’s bowling league.”

Meanwhile, DeCair was in the process of putting the finishing touches on his new alley, details of which were published in the Manistee News Advocate on Sept. 25, 1937:

“Installation of new bowling alleys on the second floor of the Larsen Building, corner of River and Greenbush streets, is progressing rapidly. Frank DeCair, the owner, reported today.

“Experts from Detroit are doing the work, putting in the four smooth strips of planking that will be the battleground for pin toppers in the city leagues this winter. The foundation for the alleys has been completed and the work is moving forward rapidly.

“Bowlers will enjoy the spacious, airy layout that is being developed by Mr. DeCair, who is making every effort to arrange one of the best reception halls in this part of the state.

“He expects additional leagues to be formed this year. Women bowlers have already drafted their first plans. Consumers Power Company employees have organized a four-team company loop, while the regular men’s division will hold an organization meeting soon, it is expected.

“The new alleys are expected to be ready for use a week from today.”

With the new bowling alley set to open in a day, members of the leagues were asked to attend a meeting at the Knights of Pythias Hall to discuss plans for the new “pin toppling season”. At this meeting, several topics were discussed including forfeited games, various handicaps and entry fees. While the topic of the new women’s league was not reported on, it can probably be assumed that the formation of the new female league would have been mentioned at the organizational meeting.

On Oct. 6, 1937, a large-sized ad was published in the Manistee News Advocate announcing the opening of DeCair’s new bowling alley. The verbiage for the ad reads as such:

“Four new alleys for your pleasure in our new hall. You’ll like the central location — and the fine modern lighting facilities we’ve installed to better your game.

“We extend a sincere invitation to all of our old friends to visit us again at our new location.

“And if you’ve never bowled before, come up and try it once! It’s a real competitive sport! It’s healthful, setting every muscle into play; trimming down flabby flesh into strength and good physique. And it’s the world’s best fun! Bowl twice a week — and keep fit. You’ll enjoy meeting your friends here for a game, day or night.”

The last line of the ad however does not do much for gender equality as it reads in big, bold letters:

“Bowling Builds Better Men”

Regardless, a few weeks later it was announced in the News Advocate that Manistee’s first Women’s Bowling League would commence their season on Oct. 22 and would run until April of 1938. The league was made up of the following eight teams and their original players (of which only the last names are available):

Northside Improvement Association: Mueckler, Brugman, B. Hanson, S. Hanson, Jensen

Manistee Garment Co.: DeCair, Krueger Walsh, Graefe, Burrows

US-31 Eat Shop: Chycinski, D. Drewnak, Kosloski, G. Drewnak, Shea

J.J. Newberry Co.: Carlson, G. Chambers, Steingraber, Henrichsen, Edens

Mann’s Electric Service: Ludlow, Shimnoski, Mann, Larsen, Anderson, Mann, Merterns

Hill’s Motor Sales: Hegler, Meier, Arnold, Hill, Ramsdell

Mackin Tire and Battery Co.: Lewis, Ziolkowski, Gunderson, Snape, Mackin

Maple Tavern: Yonders, Krupp, Brace, Applegren, Wrobleski

Perusing the articles reporting on the first season of the Women’s Bowling League, there doesn’t appear to be much in the way of ultra-dramatic tales to tell. What is known is that by the end of that season, the Northside Improvement Association won first place and the female bowlers of Manistee had a league of their own. The Manistee Recreation Parlor remained a bowling alley until the late 1940s. Today, the second floor of the Larsen Building is occupied by Jackpine Business Center.

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Posted by Mark Fedder

Mark Fedder is the executive director of the Manistee County Historical Musuem. He can be reached at (231) 723-5531 ormanisteemuseum@yahoo.com.

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