Jewish People's Institute Girls
Jewish People's Institute Girls, a leading women’s amateur basketball team in Chicago during the 1920s and early 1930s. The team, founded in 1916, pioneered women's amateur basketball in Chicago playing under men's rules and competed until 1932.
The team had its origin in the efforts of Rose Rodkin of the Chicago Hebrew Institute (CHI) (changed to Jewish People's Institute (JPI) in 1922). One day in October of 1916, Rodkin after seeing a men's game at the Hull House between a Hull House five and a Hebrew Institute five, was fired up to form a team for women playing under men's rules. With the assistance of Louis Berger, she soon formed the first such women's amateur team in the city and recruited Hull House, Christ Church, Sinai Social Center, and the Illinois Athletic Club (the future Brownies) to organize competing teams in the winter of 1916-17. In the first contest of amateur women’s team in Chicago, the Chicago Hebrew Institute Girls defeated the Hull House girls 25 to 15.
In the 1918-19 season, the Hebrew Institute staged the first women’s tournament in the city at the CHI women's gym, and the following year took second in the Central AAU women's title game, designated as being for the "city championship."
In 1921, the Chicago Hebrew Institute (CHI) women won the Central AAU title over Steger A.C. Club of Steger, Illinois, 10-2, and took the Amateur Athletic Federation (AAF) title as well. The team with Rose Rodkin as captain and Martha Wolf as manager went undefeated with 23 victories by March 18, 1921. CHI took second in the Central AAU tournament to the Brownies in the spring of 1922.
As the Jewish People's Institute Girls
In late 1922, with the change in name of their sponsoring institution, the team was renamed the Jewish People's Institute Girls. The J.P.I. Girls next achievement was in 1924, when they took second to the Uptown Brownies in the Central AAU league standings that year, and took third in the Central AAU tournament. In 1925, the J.P.I. Girls finished fourth in the Central AAU tourney, but won the A.A.F. championship with a win over Welles Park, 5-4.
In the 1925-26 season, the J.P.I. Girls garnered a record of 22 wins and only four losses. The team took second in the title game of the Central AAU tournament, losing to the Tri-Chi Girls, 36 to 13.
In the 1926-27 season, the J.P.I. Girls played 30 games and suffered only three defeats. In the Central AAU tournament, the team finished with a respectable third place trophy. The team traditionally ended it with an elaborate luncheon at the Edgewater Beach Hotel. Members of the team were Rae Silverman, Gertie Goldfein, Elsie Duby, Rose Olbur, Dorothy Boyce, Perle Nachbar, Mildred Christensen, and Dorothy Portugues.
The J.P.I. team was one of the few white amateur teams to play African-American teams, competing for example against the Roamer Girls in 1926 and 1928, and against the Olivet Baptist Church Cosmopolitans in 1929. They were upset by the Cosmopolitans for the first time, when they met a team that included star players Virginia Willis and the great tennis sensasion Ora Mae Washington.
The J.P.I. team was extraordinarily successful during the 1927-28 season, with little 14-year old Annie Goldstein in the lineup. The team at this time was being coached by Emil Gullubier and he had such top players as Rae Silverman, Rose Olbur, Mildred Christensen, and Gertrude Goldfein the providing a core to the team. The team finished with an extraordinary record of 29 wins and only one loss. The team's only loss was at the end of the season, when it lost to the St. Louis Y.W.H.A. team at the Institute, 23 to 18. While the team beat such out of town teams as the Beloit Fairies in Wisconsin and and the Y.W.H.A Girls in St. Louis in an earlier game, the Chicago Herald and Examiner noted that the team had not met two of the major teams, the Taylor Trunks and the IWAC Brownies.
In the 1928-29 season, the team won 30 games and lost five. In a key match-up, in February 1929, the J.P.I. Girls lost a heartbreaker to the IWAC Brownies, 15-14. The following season the team won 30 and lost five. The team traveled to St. Louis and beat two teams--a 17-15 victory over the Bachelor Girls, described as the Missouri Girls State Champions, and the Shoenbergs, 26-14. The team also traveled to Beloit, Wisconsin, where they beat the Fairbanks Morse Quintet, 15 to 9.
By 1931, the J.P.I. Girls, still top-drawer and still coached by Emil Gullubier, included veterans Gertrude Goldfein (now Edelcup), Mildred Christenson, Dorothy Boyce, Anne Goldstein, Rose Olbur, and Captain Rae Silverman (now Levine). Rounding out lineup were a pair of sisters, Henrietta Schoenfield and Fannie Schoenfeld. In January of that year, the The Sentinel reported that the team had in the last five years won 162 games and losing only six (these figures are subject to change depending on the story). In February the team won the annual Calumet Region Basketball tournament. At the end of the season, before a grand season-ending finale against the vaulted Taylor Trunks, J.P.I. boasted has having won 157 games and losing only six in the last five years. The season, alas for the J.P.I. Girls’ remarkable record, ended on a loss to the Taylor Trunks, 36 to 22. The J.P.I. Girls ended the season with 28 wins and only two losses.
Final Season, 1931-32
The 1931-32 season was the last one for the famed Jewish People’s Institute Girls. Again, the team was successful, repeating as champion of the Calumet Region Basketball Tournament in February 1932. All-stars selected from the J.P.I. team were forward Anne Goldstein and guards Ruth Olbur and Rae Levine. The last women's tournament that the Jewish People's Institute Girls participated in was the Central AAU meet in the spring of 1932, where they were handedly eliminated in the semi-finals, 29 to 15, by the eventual champions May & Malone Girls.
With the onset of the Great Depression in late 1929, the Jewish People's Institute increasingly lost membership and income, and was experiencing rising deficits each year. As a result, the Institute terminated its sponsorship of seven boys amateur teams and the J.P.I. Girls at the end of the 1931-32 season. Three of the team's top players--Anne Goldstein, Rose Olbur, and Rae Levine--found a new home with a newly formed team in the fall of 1932, the Spencer Coals. The Spencer Coals was coached by Mark Singer, who as with every women's team he coached in the 1930s turned them into champions.
The Jewish People's Institute reinstituted a women's team in the 1933-34 season, but the team had no members from the great program that ended in the spring of 1932. None of the girls were name players, and it appeared that the Institute wanted a low profile team that did not travel and did not compete against top drawer teams. The team competed in the American Tournament, but did not get far.
The Jewish People's Institute Girls left a tremendous legacy as one of the top teams in the country playing amateur basketball under men's rules. The team from its formation in the fall of 1916 to its end in the spring of 1932 in more than a quarter century of play regularly competed on the highest echelon of women's basketball in the city, one of the big three alongside the Brownies and the Taylor Trunks. In mainstream American society, many people thought that Jewish women were not sports oriented, but he story of the Jewish People's Institute Girls reduces that idea to a shibboleth.