Skip to main content

The Great Gymnasium Mystery

The great Gertrude Morrison’s The Girls of Central High at Basketball, or The Great Gymnasium Mystery (World Syndicate Publishing) influenced at least two generations of female athletes after its publication in 1914. It remains the touchstone by which women’s basketball fiction is measured.

I wouldn’t dream of giving away the plot. But occasionally Morrison interrupts her swift-moving narrative to philosophize about athletics, education, and life. Below, for your edification, is a sample.


The play went on again under the keen eye of the instructor. Mrs. Case believed most thoroughly in the efficiency of basketball for the development and training of girls; but she did not allow her charges to play the game without supervision. Lack of supervision by instructors is where the danger of basketball and kindred athletics lies.

The game is an excellent one from every point of view; yet within the last few years it has come into disfavor in some quarters, and many parents have forbidden their daughters to engage in it. Like bicycling in the past, and football with the boys, basketball has suffered “a black eye” because of the way it has been played, not because of the game itself.

But the Girls’ Branch played the game under sound rules, and under the keen oversight of the instructor engaged by the Board of Education of Centerport for that purpose. Basketball is the first, or one of the first vigorous team games to become popular among women and girls in this country, and under proper supervision will long remain a favorite pastime. (pp. 4-5)


Basketball is perhaps the most transparent medium for revealing certain angles of character in young girls. At first the players seldom have anything more than a vague idea of the proper manner of throwing a ball, or the direction in which it is to be thrown.

The old joke about a woman throwing a stone at a hen and breaking the pane of glass behind her will soon become a tasteless morsel under the tongue of the humorist. Girls in our great public schools are learning how to throw. And basketball is one of the greatest helps to this end. The woman of the coming generation is going to have developed the same arm and shoulder muscles that man displays, and will be able to throw a stone and hit the hen, if necessary!

The girl beginner at basketball usually has little idea of direction in throwing the ball; nor, indeed, does she seem to distinguish fairly at first between her opponents and her teammates. Her only idea is to try to propel the ball in the general direction of the goal, the thought that by passing it from one to another of her teammates she will much more likely see it land safely in the basket never seemingly entering her mind.

But once a girl has learned to observe and understand the position and function of teammates and opponents, the consider the chances of the game in relation to the score, and, bearing these things in mind, can form a judgement as to her most advantageous play, and act quickly on it – when she has learned to repress her hysterical excitement and play quietly instead of boisterously, what is it she has gained?

It is self-evident that she has won something beside the mere ability to play basketball. She has learned to control her emotions – to a degree, at least – through the dictates of her mind. Blind impulse has been supplanted by intelligence. Indeed, she has gained, without doubt, a balance of mind and character that will work for good not only to herself, but to others.

Indeed, it is the following out of the old fact – the uncontrovertible fact of education – that what one learns in school is not so valuable as is the fact that he learns how to learn. Playing basketball seriously will help the girl player to control her emotions and her mind in far higher and more important matters than athletics. (pp. 53-55)


Despite the insistence of the League rules, and the advice and preachments of physical instructors, there was bound to be a spirit of rivalry in the games. How else would the interest be kept up? Playing for the sake of the game is all right; but the personal desire to win is, after all, what inspires any player to do his, or her, best. (p. 154)


Although school athletics was much in the minds of the girls, those who participated in the games had to stand well in their classes to retain their positions on the teams. Books first, athletics afterward. That was the iron-bound rule of the Girls’ Branch Athletic League. (p. 191)


It is not good basketball to oppose other than one’s immediate opponent. (p. 201)