The Truth Behind the Icon: The Real Story of the 1899 Nevada Women’s Basketball Team

Photograph of the Class of 1899 women’s basketball team, taken in 1896. Top row, left to right: Zena Blakeslee, Robert Frazier, M. Grayson, Vive Hickey. Middle row, left to right: Delle Boyd, Elizabeth Stubbs, Matty McIntyre. Front row, left to right: Enid Williams, Louise Ward, Mattie Parker.

Their eyes gleam with intensity and barely a smile cracks their faces. Their uniforms are bulky and cumbersome, long gathered skirts and full sleeves, prim and buttoned collars. The number 99 is conspicuously emblazoned on each. One of them holds a basketball, gazing steadily at the camera. Unlike many turn-of-the-century portraits of women, carefully posed to portray them as delicate and weak, there is nothing fragile or helpless about these women: they are confident and composed. This photo and the legend that has grown around it occupies a unique place in university history and in the hearts of Wolf Pack supporters. Celebrated as the University’s first victorious sports team, this image has become an iconic emblem of the University of Nevada, Reno and the women’s athletic program.

The victory, the first in university history, came on April 11, 1899 when Nevada beat Stanford by a score of 3-2. It was startling enough that both the Nevada State Journal and the Reno Evening Gazette took notice, running prominent articles celebrating the win and anticipating the large crowd and loud ovation that would greet the team when they returned to Reno. The student newspaper proclaimed, “This is the first time in which Nevada has defeated a college team and we feel duly proud of our victorious girls. Let us follow up this victory with others, and the time is not far off when Nevada will be recognized in athletics among the colleges of the West.”[i]

A couple of years later, in an article summing up the history of athletics at the university, the 1901 yearbook noted: “To the honor of the girls be it said that this was the first real intercollegiate victory won by a University of Nevada team.”[ii] Note that the victory has already been built upon: it is not the first victory—it is the first real victory, the first intercollegiate victory. As college sports became formalized, the distinction was necessary. The university formed the Athletic Association in 1898, marking the start of organized sports on campus. Before that, less formal co-ed and scrimmage teams had formed among students who quickly discovered that Reno’s isolation from other universities made finding opponents and scheduling games difficult. These teams included football, baseball, track, and basketball. The results entered the university record via the student newspaper and yearbooks, predating official collegiate record keeping. According to these records, the football team had in fact won games prior to the women’s basketball victory in 1899, playing prep schools, athletic clubs, small private colleges, and second-elevens (the equivalent to second strings or junior varsity teams). Once the university began keeping score, these scrimmage games with non-university teams no longer counted. The win over Stanford did count. It stands to this day as the first official victory of the University of Nevada.

How the photograph became associated with this historic victory isn’t clear. It came to University Archives, possibly from the Education Department, with a shaky scribble on the back noting simply that “Elizabeth Stubbs holds the basketball.” It was accompanied by a photocopied sheet titled “Girl’s Basketball Team – University of Nevada – 1899.” A typed list of the names of the players follows below, along with a note that the identification was provided by Charles Paul Keyser on October 22, 1971. Keyser was a member of the class of 1899 and a well-known donor to the university. Another handwritten note, this one scrawled across the top of the photocopy in different handwriting, states that the photo was taken in 1896. Probably considered to be a mistake or a memory muddled by the passing years (after all, Keyser was in his nineties when he made the identifications), this crucial piece of evidence has been overlooked or dismissed by everyone who has handled the photo, assuming instead that the players are in fact the victorious University of Nevada basketball team of the 1898-1899 school year. As such, it has been blown up and reproduced, framed and hung on walls, dispersed in books and articles, always captioned 1899 basketball team, always referring to that first historic win.

Mistaken dates and misidentified people and places are not uncommon in archives, particularly in photographs, which are frequently labeled upon donation, years after the events depicted took place, relegated to the vagaries of time and memory. Many photographs have no dates or identification. Historians often have no choice but to try to put the pieces together with incomplete or contradictory information. While in many cases it is possible to track down the original context of a photograph, this level of research is rarely something archivists have time to do on a regular basis. In this case, local historian and author Alicia Barber asked me to clarify which photograph was the correct one for her exhibit on Nevada women, now installed at the Nevada State Capitol. What began as a reference question turned into an important historical discovery.

As it turns out, it wasn’t just football players out organizing squads and arranging games in the early days of college athletics. Women were interested in playing sports and basketball was their sport of choice.[iii] The Student Record noted in September of 1896 that “the co-eds of the class of ’99 who have always taken an interest in athletic sports have organized a team to play basket ball. This is the first team of the kind organized in this State.”[iv] Over the next few months, student reporters tracked the practices, often as early as 4:30 am, noting that no visitors were allowed in and that people were very intrigued by this group of young ladies, with anticipation palpably building on campus. A large crowd formed when a game was finally organized. Both teams were composed of university students: the Class of 1899 and a second group of students from the women’s dormitory, Manzanita Hall, called the Girl’s Cottage team. The Class of 1899 won 2-1 after 50 minutes of play with a ten-minute intermission. According to the Student Record, the Cottage team remained undaunted while the Class of 1899 intended to find other teams to play.[v] Ultimately, a lack of coaching led to the team disbanding before other opponents could be found.

The spring of 1898 marked the return of basketball to the University of Nevada campus, this time with a coach and a formally organized university team. “Bloomers replaced frills and petticoats,”[vi] proclaimed the Artemisia, and attention to the rules replaced the mad scramble that had been that first exciting game. It was difficult to find opponents, resulting in “a desperate struggle for existence” until finally a match was scheduled in San Francisco with the University of California.[vii] Nevada lost that game. A year later, after another loss to California, history was made when the team from Nevada shocked and silenced the crowded stadium at Stanford.

The team photo from the victorious1898-99 school year appeared in the 1899 yearbook. It was taken before that game was played; the yearbook went to print with a mention of the upcoming battle, which was summarized in the following year’s annual. The full sleeves and prim collars remain, with voluminous knickers replacing the skirts. Elizabeth Stubbs, one of two players to play on both teams, who continued as team manager after graduation, is listed as the right forward. Shown below in the back row, far left, her demeanor exudes confidence, her unflinching eyes returning our gaze to this day with her own. Giving credit to the correct squad and restoring the connection to the correct photograph clarifies an important moment in university history. Recovering the lost story of the Class of 1899 basketball team and the early history of college athletics adds a whole new dimension to this story and to the history of the University of Nevada, Reno.

Photograph of the 1899 Nevada women’s basketball team, the first athletics team to record an intercollegiate victory for Nevada. Back row, left to right: Elizabeth Stubbs, Amelia North, Edith Brownsill (coach), Mary Eugenia Arnot; middle, left to right: Mattie McIntyre, Julia Beckman, Louise Ward, Winnie Strosnider, Elizabeth Webster; front row, left to right: Ida Holmes, Maude Patterson, Maude Nash, Ruby North.

[i] Nevada State University Student Record, vol. VI no. 14, Apr 15, 1899 p. 14

[ii] Nevada State University, Artemisia, 1901, p. 64

[iii] For a discussion of women’s college basketball, see Richard O. Davies, Sports in American Life: a History (Chichester, West Sussex ; Malden, MA : Wiley-Blackwell), 2012

[iv] Nevada State University Student Record, vol. IV no. 1, Sept 15, 1896, p. 14

[v] Nevada State University Student Record, vol. IV no. 4, Dec 1, 1896, p. 11

[vi] Nevada State University, Artemisia, 1900, p. 93

[vii] Nevada State University, Artemisia, 1900, p. 93

Snapshot of Mill Street

Sometimes a picture really is worth a thousand words. For this reason, historians are increasingly turning to visual imagery as primary source material in archival research. The wealth of information contained in a simple photograph is immense, each one representing a unique moment in time and place. Even unidentified photos can provide invaluable information to anyone willing to take a few minutes to look closely.

This real photo postcard, captioned “Mill Street, Reno Nevada,” is an example of how we can use historical photographs to better understand the most intimate and casual details of daily life.

Looking east on Mill Street, this image captures the daily rhythm of life in early twentieth- century Reno. Notice the woman on the left, wearing a skirt that exposes her ankles. This fact alone helps date the photo to circa 1915. Also, notice the telephone poles, an early twentieth-century design and another common way to date photographs. The trees are young, indicating the newness of the neighborhood. The street is dirt and there is snow in the gutter on the right side. This, and the shadows created by the lower winter sun, mean that the houses across the street have southern exposures, which places them on the north side of Mill Street. This is how we know it is facing east. Checking the Sanborn Insurance Maps of Reno is a simple way to confirm this.

Notice the wagons on the street, showing home delivery of the resources people used to keep their households warm and running. The horse-drawn wagon next to the woman is a fuel delivery wagon, possibly bringing kerosene to her. Also, notice the wagon full of firewood going down the street. A pile of logs has fallen from the wagon, and the photographer has snapped the picture right as the man is walking back to pick them up! This is a completely innocuous yet stunning detail.

The house down at the very end of the street was built by the father of local architect, Frederic DeLongchamps, who grew up in the bungalow behind it. He would become famous for the Washoe County Court House, the Reno Post Office, and many other still-loved homes and buildings in Nevada. While this house still stands at the intersection of Mill and Holcomb, the Automobile Museum and an empty lot have replaced the rest of the homes on this section of Mill Street.

If you are interested, come see this photo and many other exciting and equally revealing materials on exhibit right now in the Knowledge Center as part of our Reno 150 celebration.

“Elephants in the Casino” Exhibit Closing Soon

Trader Dick’s restaurant first was located across from the Nugget, then moved into the casino.

Our current exhibit about the history of John Ascuaga’s Nugget will be closing on July 28.  If you have not yet had a chance to view “Elephants in the Casino”, your time is running out!  The exhibit covers the earliest years of the Nugget’s development under its first owner, Dick Graves, with John Ascuaga as his General Manager.  It includes information on Trader Dick’s restaurant from its Sparks location across from the Nugget and the addition of beloved elephant, Bertha.


The exhibit further explores the casino’s history under the sole ownership of John Ascuaga and his continued development of the property through the building of the second tower, completed in 1996, as well as the emphasis on its quality food, its staff, and further management assistance by two of his children, Stephen and Michonne Ascuaga.

Bertha helps Bonanza TV stars gamble at the Nugget while John Ascuaga looks on.

Celebrity shows and special promotions were a mainstay, with such events as the Nugget Golf Classic, the Basque Festival, and the Hereford Bull Sale held inside the Celebrity Showroom, to name only a few.  But always at the heart of entertainment was Bertha, the elephant who, with her sidekick elephant friends Tina and later Angel, was a hard act to follow in the Celebrity Showroom and became the unofficial mascot of Sparks.

The Special Collections Department exhibit is open to the public from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., Monday to Friday, in the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center, third floor.

2016: An End of the Year Roundup

2016 was a busy year for the Special Collections and University Archives department. We’d like to take a moment now as we prepare for 2017 to thank our donors and give a little recap of some of our 2016 achievements.

In 2016, we made available a grand total of 15 manuscript and archival collections:

Additions and updates have been made to 8 manuscript and archival collections:

7 Exhibits have been installed, including 2 with public programming:

  • Whose Land Is It: The Dann Sisters and the Western Shoshone Defense Project (September 15, 2015-March 18, 2016)
  • Upstart Crow (April 1-July 15, 2016)
  • Shakespeare at UNR (April 6-August 27, 2016)
  • The Road to Office (August 1-November 18, 2016)
  • 50th Anniversary of Mackay Stadium (August 27-November 2016)
  • 29th Annual Nevada Writers Hall of Fame (November 2016-present)
  • Snow (December 1-March 15, 2017)

We have received the donation of 4 major collections:

  • Lawrence I Berkove Papers
  • Harry Reid Papers
  • John Sparks Papers
  • Percival Nash photographs of Manhattan, Nevada

In addition, 690 individual University Archives photographs.

We have answered over 1,550  reference questions in person, over the phone, and by email.

We published our first book A Pictorial History of the University of Nevada, Reno (available for purchase).

And if you’re interested in contributing to our work for 2017, you can donate now securely online via the UNR Foundation Office.

As busy as we have been this year, we’re thrilled to have reached so many fantastic individuals and hopefully inspired a little more love for local history. We’re looking forward to a great 2017.

Happy New Year to all!

Last Chance to View Revealing Political Exhibit

Nevada Can't Beat the StorkWhile the national election has come to its surprising end, our political exhibit, “On the Road to Office: Campaigns, Elections and Governance” lives on until November 18.  You still have time to view the politics of Nevada’s past by seeing items pulled from our many political collections.

Fierce campaign battles have been going on every election between candidates and among their supporters, and from those who see that change is needed to keep going forward.

Our exhibit shows the many ways in which campaigns have been handled:Burning Man, 2008

  • How the growth of Nevada’s population after World War II had overwhelmed existing school buildings and the work to get bond measures passed for their construction;
  • How building support among many organizations and individuals concerned with the fate of the Black Rock/High Rock desert area created its National Conservation Area;
  • Or the campaigns of Senator Paul Laxalt for the election and re-elections of President Ronald Reagan;
  • And Laxalt’s own tough 1980 campaign against Mary Gojack. (In his victory speech he used the phrase “We are committed to making American great again.”)

There is also a primer on how to run a campaign which has examples of many people’s way of addressing the suggested 10 points. Point #9 is to not run a negative campaign!

Does history really repeat itself?  Can individuals learn from the past?  Our goal in creating this exhibit is to help reveal the state’s political past by exposing those various historical events to both new as well as contemporary generations of Nevadans so that they understand the present and can make informed decisions about their future.


Campaign Matters: Insider Views

Campaign Matters postcardWe are getting very close to our event!  Don’t forget that the University of Nevada, Reno Libraries’ Special Collections Department invites the public to a unique panel discussion called “Campaign Matters: Insider Views.” The free event, 2 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 24, will feature a variety of family, staff and volunteers who have helped on past political campaigns. Attendees will hear stories about Nevada’s political history from some of the state’s “political veterans.”

Featured will be moderator Keith Lee, longtime political lobbyist and attorney; panelists include Patricia D. Cafferata and her daughter Elisa Cafferata, who both helped their mother and grandmother Barbara Vucanovich on her elections, as well as running campaigns of their own; Susan Lynn, rural representative for Jim Santini when he changed political parties to run for the U.S. Senate; Neena Laxalt, daughter of former U.S. Senator Paul Laxalt; and Paul Bible, attorney and son of U.S. Senator Alan Bible.

Questions to the panelists will include: What were they asked to do? Did they volunteer or were they paid staff? What worked for the campaigns they helped with, or what didn’t?  What would you like to know more about? Send your questions to:

“Campaign Matters: Insider Views” will be held in the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center’s Wells Fargo Auditorium. Seating is limited, so RSVPs are required: Free parking is available in the Brian J. Whalen Parking Complex.

“Campaign Matters” is being held in conjunction with the Special Collections current political exhibit, “The Road to Office: Campaigns, Elections, and Governance.” The exhibit will be opened during the program. For more information or questions, contact the Special Collections and University Archives Department from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday by phone at 775-682-5665, or email

We hope to see you there!

New Exhibit Available Highlighting Political Collections

RoadtoOffice case signage_27x7

Once again, politics have permeated our airwaves and our attention. To honor the political season, Special Collections presents a new exhibit that offers a snapshot of Nevada’s political past and explores the men and women who campaigned for offices in Nevada. Entitled On the Road to Office: Campaigns, Elections and Governance, the exhibit runs through Nov. 18, 2016.

Through the files of the many political papers housed in Special Collections, the exhibit explores how people grappled with issues of the day, ran for and remained in office, and assisted others in gaining a role in the democratic process.

UNRS-P2015-12-00278One highlight of the exhibit is Paul Laxalt’s continued role in the campaigns to elect and re-elect Ronald Reagan as President of the United States. Friends since they were governors of their neighboring states and often referred to by media as “the First Friend,” Laxalt was called upon by Reagan to be his national campaign chairman in pursuing the nation’s highest office beginning in 1976.

While their first attempt failed, Reagan’s 1980 election and his 1984 re-election changed the course of national politics and political dialogue. During his work for Reagan, Laxalt also ran his own re-election campaign for the U.S. Senate in 1980 against his challenger, Democrat Mary Gojack. Items from Gojack’s manuscript collection show her fight in that election.”

William Raggio DA Re-election Poster William J. Raggio, the state’s longest serving senator, is also featured in the exhibit as are materials from other numerous Nevada politicians and their campaigns. The exhibit also displays how individuals, organizations and legislators have collaborated on important issues of the day.

Public Radio station KUNR’s Noah Glick visited the exhibit.  Listen to his report of August 18th  via this link:

Located on the third floor of the Knowledge Center, On the Road to Office: Campaigns, Elections and Governance is open for viewing from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Monday-Friday. For further information, please contact the Special Collections at (775) 682-5665 or email:

Cliff Young’s Legacy in Special Collections

Clifton Young died on April 3, 2016, and his passing got me to thinking about him. I met Cliff Young when I received a call from his staff about the possibilities of donating additional materials he had to Special Collections. He had already donated materials about himself and his family to be included in our manuscript collections, but before my time working in Special Collections. At the time of the call, he was one of Justices on the Nevada Supreme Court, formerly its Chief Justice, and had made the decision to retire from the bench. Consequently, he had to do something with all the accumulation of files that went beyond his court work. In 2002, I traveled to the Supreme Court building in Carson City to talk with him and see the files he had.

Walking into his office was a bit of a surprise as it wasn’t exactly what I expected. It was a complete surprise, actually. The walls were filled with photographs but also an amazing amount of mounted animal heads and fish, trophies of his time hunting and fishing throughout his life. He told me stories about most of the items, too. He had a love for the outdoors.

The materials that he wanted to donate to our department involved a continuation of items about his family plus his own work with the National Wildlife Federation and the Nevada Wildlife Federation, a lot of personal correspondence (and he knew everyone!), and items from his political career. Justice Young served in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1953-1957, and had an unsuccessful campaign in 1956 where he lost to Alan Bible. He also was a state Senator from 1966-1980. Much of his political career was organized into a number of scrapbooks.
Cliff Young book

Since he knew about the court system, Young had also published a book entitled From Kings’ Court to Justice Courts: a Notable Judicial Odyssey in 1994, a project of the Nevada Judicial Historical Society. But as many authors have found, not all the research one does ends up between the covers, but it’s still good stuff that you hang onto. Consequently, he retained his research files on Nevada’s justice court system, plus drafts of the manuscript on its way through the publication process.

It was a treat to meet Justice Young and accept his donation. It was obvious that he loved to talk with people and had wonderful stories to regale you with. Those interested in his two manuscript materials can view the guides to his papers in Manuscript Collections 96-06 and 2002-14. He also conducted an oral history in 2002 and you can view the transcript here.

Paul Laxalt’s Reagan Years: Campaigns, Elections and the Road to the White House

Often referred to by media as “the First Friend,” Nevada’s United States Senator Paul Laxalt’s friendship and working relationship with President Ronald Reagan was well known in its day. UNRS-P2015-12-00278While much has been written about Reagan, few sources relating to Laxalt’s work overseeing Reagan’s presidential campaigns have been available to researchers.

The Reagan materials found in the extensive Paul Laxalt U.S. Senatorial Papers, housed in Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Nevada, Reno Libraries, are now open for use. This project is made possible by a grant from the U.S. Institute of Museum and Library Services, administered by the Nevada State Library and Archives. Available online is the collection’s guide and a selection of documents and photographs which were digitized.

This portion of the Paul Laxalt U.S. Senatorial Papers covers the years 1975-1987 when Laxalt was Reagan’s national chairman for his presidential campaigns in 1976, 1980 and his reelection campaign in 1984. The election materials fill a void in depicting Reagan and Laxalt’s close friendship. They are comprised of correspondence, reports, scrapbooks, audio/visual resources and photographs, which provide a wealth of information for researchers.

Senator Paul Laxalt talks with Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office

Senator Paul Laxalt talks with Ronald Reagan in the Oval Office

Paul Laxalt, a longtime Republican public figure in Nevada, became a notable and highly visible player on the national political stage. The son of Basque immigrants, Laxalt rose through Nevada’s political ranks to governor before becoming the first Basque-American ever elected to the U.S. Senate (1974-1987). His tenure was marked by a dedication to conservative politics and his friendship with Ronald Reagan.

“We are very grateful to have received the grant from the Nevada State Library and Archives which allowed us to hire a project archivist to organize and prepare these important historical political materials for use,” Jacquelyn Sundstrand, Special Collection’s manuscripts and archives librarian who oversaw the processing work for the collection, said. “We know that the Laxalt-Reagan friendship was extremely important to both men as well as to the state of Nevada within the American political scene. These materials compliment and expand our knowledge about what is already known concerning both Paul Laxalt and President Reagan’s legacies.”

To access the Paul Laxalt-Ronald Reagan manuscript collection guide and for the selected digitized collection, visit

For additional information concerning the Paul Laxalt and Ronald Reagan materials at the University, please contact Special Collections via email,, call 775-682-5665, or visit

Western Shoshone Exhibit Closing March 18

WSDP exhbit2_2-26-2016 Closing on March 18 is our latest exhibit “Whose Land is It? The Dann Sisters and the Western Shoshone Defense Project.”  The exhibit is based on just one new collection, the Western Shoshone Defense Project Records, we recently prepared through a grant from the National Historical Publications & Records Commission.

The records of the Western Shoshone Defense Project were maintained by Carrie and Mary Dann, two traditional Western Shoshone ranchers living in northeastern Nevada. The Defense Project’s mission was to affirm Western Shoshone jurisdiction over Western Shoshone ancestral homelands by protecting, preserving, and restoring Shoshone rights and lands for present and future generations based on cultural and spiritual traditions. It was established in 1991 by the Western Shoshone National Council to provide support to Mary and Carrie Dann as they faced confiscation of their livestock which they grazed on Western Shoshone homelands without paying grazing fees to the Bureau of Land Management.

Dean Kathy Ray takes a selfie with Carrie Dann, the remaining sister, at our opening reception in September 2015.

Dean Kathy Ray takes a selfie with Carrie Dann, the remaining sister, at our opening reception for Western Shoshone in September 2015.

Voices are being raised about the uses of our public lands and if their control should be turned over to the states and not held by the federal government.  These are the same issues raised by the Sagebrush Rebellion during the 1960s and 1970s. The current media coverage on the Bundy family members’ armed standoffs with their supporters concerning fees and uses of what are now considered public lands has some parallels with the issues raised by Western Shoshone peoples.  However, the Western Shoshone pursued solutions about their ancestral lands through the courts.

The exhibit is available on the third floor of the Mathewson-IGT Knowledge Center at the Special Collections Department through March 18, 2016. Please contact the department if you have any questions. Email:; phone: 775/682-5665. Hope to see you soon!