Berenson, Senda : Jews In Sports @ Virtual Museum

Berenson, Senda

Known as the "Mother of Women's Basketball," Berenson was the first woman enshrined in the Basketball Hall of Fame. She pioneered women's basketball while the Director of Physical Education at Smith College in Massachusetts. After reading about the game, she befriended Dr. James Naismith, believing she could integrate the rules into a game suitable for women. Berenson edited a rules book and developed the women's game, stressing socialization and cooperation rather than competition.

Birth and Death Dates:
b. March 19, 1868 - d. Feb. 16, 1954

Career Highlights:
A member of the Basketball Hall of Fame (enshrined in 1985), Berenson was born in Lithuania, but emigrated to the United States with her family at the age of seven, settling in the Boston area. Berenson had very little interest in athletics as a child, much preferring music, literature, and art. Painful back problems forced Berenson to give up the piano and she was persuaded to enter the Boston Normal School of Gymnastics, where she gradually strengthened her body. Berenson soon began to spread the word on the importance of gymnastics.

While at the Boston Normal School, Berenson was invited to substitute for the Director of Physical Education at Smith College. What was supposed to be a three-week position, however, became a 19-year relationship (1892-1911). During her tenure at Smith, Berenson was introduced to the new game of basketball and held the first women's basketball game in 1893 (there were no male observers) by dividing the court into three equal sections and requiring players to remain in their assigned section. This was done to limit the amount of physical activity the women had to expend.

Berenson strongly believed in supervising the athletic activities of the women at Smith. She also encouraged the participation of all of the students rather than concentrating her teaching on highly-skilled individuals. By doing this, she influenced the school's policy of emphasizing a strong intramural program rather than a competitive interscholastic one. It was at this time that women's athletics became an important part of American life, although they were ruled by more or less Victorian standards until the feminist movement began to gather steam in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

After retiring from Smith College in 1911, Berenson married Herbert Vaughn Abbott. She continued her involvement in women's athletics as the Director of Physical Education at the Mary A. Burnham School for ten years, and remained the editor of the Basketball Guide for Women. From 1905-1917, Senda was Chairperson of the U.S. Women's Basketball Committee. Berenson is a member of the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.

Vilna, Lithuania

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encyclopedia of JEWS in sports, by Bernard Postal, Jesse Silver, and Roy Silver (New York: Bloch Publishing Co., 1965)