Senda Berenson Abbott
March 19, 1868 - February 16, 1954
Senda Berenson Abbott was a pioneer of women's basketball in America, adapting the sport for the weaker sex, using it as a means of fitness, and authoring the first Basketball Guide for Women in 1907.
Senda Berenson Abbott – «mother of the women’s basketball»
Born as Senda Valvrojenski on in Butrimonys, Vilna Governorate, then Russian empire, to a Lithuanian Jewish family, she was brought to the United States by her parents when she was seven years old.
She was the sister of the art historian Bernard Berenson and a great-great-aunt of the photographer Berry Berenson and of the actress and model Marisa Berenson.
Senda did not have much interest in athletics as a child, and preferred music, literature, and art. She was "frail and delicate" in her childhood, which even interfered with her studies at school and later at college.
Soon after the family arrived in New York, Senda's father, who had become an ardent supporter of a drive for secularization of conservative Jewish immigrants, changed his family name to the more Western Berenson.
But in the Smith College, where she was employed after graduation in 1891, she took interest in a Swedish gymnastics course taught by her colleague and personal friend Grace Watson, and soon her condition improved so remarkably, that the administration of the college sent Abbott to the elementary school of Andover to teach the course herself.
Soon, however, Berenson saw that the gymnastic exercises were not quite so enthusiastically received as she had originally thought, so she tried to find alternatives. She read about the new game of basketball, invented by James Naismith, in the YMCA publication Physical Education, and tried implementing it at the school - with very limited success due to the social peculiarities of the time: the girls (and women as a whole) were unused to team play, very weak physically and unreceptive of any "rough activities"!
She changed the Naismith rules, used in men's basketball to take into account these peculiarities, and in 1907 published the Basketball Guide for Women, which immediately found good response from her female students.
In 1911, she married a professor of English, teaching at the Smith College, Herbert Vaughan Abbott. Soon after the marriage, Berenson resigned from the College and took the position of the Director of physical education at the Mary A. Burham School located in Northampton, Massachusetts.
Abbott remained the editor of the Basketball Guide for Women and headed the U.S. Women's Basketball Committee that was created later for six years.
She was inducted to the Basketball Hall of Fame on July 1, 1985, into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 1987, and into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 1999.
Senda Berenson Abbott died on February aged 85, in Santa Barbara, California.
E. Paula Hyman; Deborah Dash Moore; American Jewish Historical Society (1997). Jewish women in America.
"Hall of Famers". Basketball Hall of Fame.
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