Vada Corbus, Almost a Trailblazer

When it comes to women in baseball, many are likely familiar with the hit movie, A League of Their Own, which focused on the brief life of the All American Girl’s Professional Baseball League from the Second World War into the early 1950’s.   Few, however, may know about Vada Corbus.
In the spring of 1931, Vada Corbus lived with her widowed mother, brother Luke (or Lewis), and two sisters.   The family was supported by Luke’s work at a lead smelter and Vada’s two sisters employment at a pasta factory.   Luke was a catcher for the Joplin Miners, and in April, 1931, was moved to play right field.   This opened up competition for the catcher position and Vada Corbus tried out for the position.

Not much is known about Vada, the newspapers were surprisingly reticent on the subject of a girl playing for the city’s minor league team.   There were a few articles, a photo of Vada in uniform, but little else about her.  Prior to an exhibition game against the nearby Pierce City team, Vada served as a warm-up catcher.   Word was that Vada was going to be signed or was signed with the team to vie for the catcher position and was expected to play in the Miners’ season opener against Springfield.

The game was held on the evening of April 30, 1931.   The bright electric lights of Childress Field illuminated the Joplin skyline.   The bleachers were full with fans filled with hope for a winning start to the season.  Vendors walked the aisles hawking refreshments.  Yet when the time came for the home team to take the field for the first inning, Vada was not among them.  Her absence was explained by an article that appeared in the New York Times.

On April 18th, the New York Times picked up the story and the news of Vada’s hopeful experiment in the Western Association League.   This in turn alerted league officials who stubbornly insisted that there was no place for women in men’s minor league ball.   It seems that Vada Corbus fell from the attention of the newspapers and was forced to bid farewell to a dream of playing ball.   Her brother never made it out of Joplin.  Instead of playing in the big leagues, he remained in his hometown where he worked as welder for Eagle-Picher, before he died in 1952 at the age of 48 from kidney failure.

Vada Corbus, female baseball player.

Vada Corbus in her Joplin Miners uniform.

If anything can be said of Vada, it is that she was courageous for attempting to break into minor league baseball, following in the footsteps of the Bloomer baseball girls that barnstormed the country.   She had certainly proven she could play at their level, if unfortunately denied the chance to do it before a grandstand full of cheering fans, men, women, and little girls.   While the Joplin Miners may be best remembered for fielding a young Mickey Mantle on his way to the Yankees, Vada Corbus deserves a spot in the limelight of the club’s and city’s history as a pioneer of women’s baseball.

If you have any information on Vada, let us know.  We’d love to hear from you.

Sources: The Joplin Globe, Missouri Digital History, 1930 Federal Census, “Baseball: The People’s Game” by Harold Seymour, “Women Players in Organized Baseball” by Society for American Baseball Research.

Joplin Museum Complex Proposal Shot Down

We would be remiss if we did not mention the recent Joplin Museum Complex proposal that was defeated at the polls.

Yesterday, Joplin held its spring election and arguably the most contentious item on the ballot was Proposition A, which if passed would have created a sales tax to fund a $7 million dollar renovation of Memorial Hall to serve as the new home of the Joplin Museum Complex.  The sales tax would have indefinitely continued at a lower rate to perpetually support the museum.   The proposal was voted down.

Joplin Memorial Hall

Memorial Hall - At least for now, remaining Memorial Hall.

According to the Joplin Globe, the vote was 3,882 to 928, a four to one margin.   While we here at Historic Joplin believe that the museum complex could do with a new home, we agree with the result of the vote.  There are several reasons why.

First, it was a poor decision to spearhead a sales tax proposal during the recent recession.  Although many economists believe the country is recovering from the recent economic downturn, folks on Main Street are still feeling the pain of difficult times.  A new museum complex is the least of someone’s worries who is struggling to pay for healthcare, food, and other necessities.  Simply put, it’s hard to justify passing a new tax on people who are struggling to survive on a daily basis.

Second, the PR campaign was mediocre at best.  The Globe, which seemed to support the museum proposal, attempted to publicize both sides of the debate.  The museum, however, failed to articulate to the public why it matters.  Talking about the museum’s multi-million dollar collection of lead and zinc samples does not translate with folks.  It does not inspire passionate debate.  In the end, the museum failed to carry its message to the people, let alone sell it.

Third, the museum awkwardly proposed taking over Memorial Hall.  Why? It appears that “museum representatives” decided upon Memorial Hall and drew up plans without even consulting the public.  Some of the endorsements on its website are questionable, even dubious at best, such as the “National Cookie Cutter Historical Museum,” and the “Joplin Historical Society.” It is our understanding that the National Cookie Cutter Museum is part of the Joplin Museum Complex as is, or was, the Joplin Historical Society.  Essentially, two organizations that are part of the museum were supporting the museum proposal – isn’t that a conflict of interest?

Fourth, we here at Historic Joplin have conducted research in many of the finest archives and libraries in the world such as the Bodleian Library at Oxford; National Archives I and II in Washington, D.C.  and College Park, Maryland; the Library of Congress; the special collections of the University of Oklahoma, the University of Missouri, and the University of Arkansas; numerous state archives and county courthouses; as well as small town libraries and museums.  We can say that we have always had a pleasant experience save for interactions with the Joplin Museum Complex.

The Joplin Museum Complex does not allow members of the public access to its collections which is extremely unfortunate.  Excuses are made that the museum is simply unable to accommodate visitor requests for access to the museum’s collection.  This is unacceptable.  Dorothea B.  Hoover is rolling in her grave.  Years ago, the University of Arkansas Museum was shuttered and the multi-million dollar collection placed in storage.  Although housed in a very small space, the university museum collection is readily accessible to the public and is cared for by professional museum staff.

We cannot say the same of the Joplin Museum Complex (JMC).  The photo in the recent Globe article on the museum shows that the Joplin Museum Complex collection has not been taken care of by the museum staff.  Even if the conditions are not ideal, there is no excuse for sloppy storage methods, although the JMC staff members are not professionally trained curators or archivists.  Out of the many libraries, museums, and archives we have visited over the years, this is the first time we encountered such an unhelpful staff.  It is unacceptable that members of the public are denied access to museum collections when it is funded by taxpayer money.

So here are our suggestions for improvement:

First, the next time the Joplin Museum Complex embarks on a fundraising campaign, it must articulate its message.  Tell the public why its collections matter.  Sell it like Sam Walton sold cheap underwear back in the 1970s.

Second, the Joplin Museum Complex should get rid of collections that have nothing to do with the history of Joplin such as the Cookie Cutter collection in order to create adequate storage space.  In the museum world, this is called “deaccessioning.” Every museum will deaccession something in its lifetime, particularly items that do not fit with the museum’s mission.  Is the Cookie Cutter collection relevant to the history of Joplin? Probably not.  So get rid of it.  Focus on the real treasures in the collection.  This should alleviate some of the storage problems.

Third, please change exhibits as time and money allows.  The Joplin Museum Complex has not changed since I was in the third grade.  Consider not allowing an animal to run around the museum as they can damage and ruin museum artifacts.  No museum staff worth its salt lets live animals have free reign inside of a museum.

Joplin Union Depot

The Joplin Union Depot not long after being built.

Fourth, consider the Union Depot.  We realize it is a shell of a building.  We have read that the basement has water problems.  It is, however, an architectural jewel waiting to be reclaimed.  The Joplin Museum Complex could have gotten a lot of support from the numerous voters who want to see the Union Depot restored to its former glory.  Forget the basement.  Pour concrete in the basement for all we care.  Any architect worth his or her drawing board can come up with architectural additions that will compliment Union Depot’s fabulous design.  Incidentally, it was in the Kansas City Bottoms where Union Depot sits, where some of Joplin’s first lead mines were established.  Think of how relevant that is to the history of Joplin – what better location to preserve and explain the history of Joplin and its rough and tumble beginnings? Plus, the Joplin Museum Complex would be a hero for saving the depot.

Fifth, contemplate hiring someone to serve as museum director who has demonstrated experience in fundraising, community relations, and who preferably has a master’s degree in museum studies.

Comments? Thoughts? Let us know.

Letters to the Joplin Police Chief

In 1907, the Joplin Police Chief Myers shared some of the letters he received on a daily basis with the Joplin Globe.  The letters offer a glimpse of life in Joplin and the surrounding areas.  Some the letters he received were mundane, such as the following letter:

“Cherryvale, Kan., Oct., 21, 1907.
Joplin City Marshal, Joplin, Mo.

Will you please see and inform me if there are any girls wanted to attend to lunch counters.  If so, I can send an experienced one, and please give me the number and the price of wages.  Let me hear soon.  Respectfully,

S.A.T.”

The Globe jauntily remarked, “The chief of police has not answered the above letter because of the fact that he is not running an employment agency.  In fact, if the chief answered all of the letters of this nature he receives he would have to hire a private secretary.”

Another letter that Chief Myers received read,

“Cassville, Mo.  Oct.  22, 1907.
Chief of Police, Joplin, Mo.

Dear Sir – Will you please inform me by enclosed card if a woman by the name of Ella Hailey is in your city.  She may be working in one of your hotels.  Please phone hotels and see if she is there.  Oblige, A.C.H.”

The Globe noted that the “last letter is somewhat out of the ordinary as he addresses  the chief as ‘dear sir’ and actually says ‘oblige’ in ending his letter.  The majority of the letters simply tell the chief of what they desire him to do and let the matter pass.”

Other letters were in response to an earlier missive from a Joplin man, C.T.  Plimer, who was hunting a wife.  One woman from Platt City, Missouri, declared, “Now please understand I am not a man hunter, for I never gave this subject much thought.  I think that I will fill the bill and the description, except having the several thousand dollars.  I have some nice property here.  I have visited in Joplin and like your city very much.”

The “most amusing letter” that Chief Meyers received, according to the Globe was one from an African American man in Fort Scott, Kansas, who wrote,

City marshal, be on the lookout for a young colored woman by the name of Leatha B—-.  She is a brown skin, good looker, good hair, a pair of earrings with blue sets, and a finger ring with a blue set in it.  She might go by the name of Leatha C.  She wears a long black coat, a black hat turned up on the side with a band with a red stripe in it, a nice black dress, and a changeable silk underskirt.  I just bought them for her.  There is a young brown skin man by the name of Will Julien.  If you catch them arrest them both and lock them up until you hear from Butler or Mr.  George Julien.  If she is there and ain’t working and running the streets, make her leave town.  Yours truly, Andy B.

P.S.  – Make her come home; she ain’t got no business down there.  I have got a good home for her and she don’t want for nothing.  Make her leave town.  She left this afternoon at 3 o’clock.  Telephone back at my expense.” – Andy B.

We’re not sure if Leatha returned to Andy B.  in Fort Scott or not, but it was probably not the last time that Chief Myers received a letter from the hopeful and the lovelorn.

Source: The Joplin Globe