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Packers pioneer in appealing to female fans

Part of the plan to popularize football in Green Bay


The NFL's push to broaden its appeal and attract more female fans has been a topical subject for the past four, five years.

But in Green Bay the effort started decades ago.

Over the course of the NFL's 95-year history, there have been few movements, developments or advances where the Packers weren't pioneers. That's to be expected to a degree, considering they are one of the league's three oldest franchises. But some of their novel ideas were simply born out of necessity.

In their perpetual struggle to survive, the Packers couldn't overlook any undertaking that might grow their fan base. As a result, the franchise was a trailblazer in trying to generate interest among women fans more than a half-century ago.

In October of 1950, a small group of female Packers fans initiated discussions to form a "Women's Quarterback Club". Less than a month later, the first meeting was held and the Green Bay Press-Gazette reported the club was the "first of its kind in the history of football anywhere."

The group was organized independently of the Packers, but had the team's full support.

"Packer management will cooperate with you in every respect," Packers President Emil Fischer told the organizers. Dues were set at $1 and wives of the Packers players were invited to join.

The first meeting was held at the Green Bay East High School Auditorium and an estimated 700 women attended. The featured speaker was Packers Head Coach Gene Ronzani, and he narrated the game film of the Packers-Bears game as part of his presentation.

Fischer also spoke.

"We need this organization to rebuild the Packers," he told the audience. "The Packers need every assistance they can possibly get."

Earlier in the 1950 season, the Packers designated their Oct. 8 home game against the New York Yanks as Ladies Day. In baseball, Ladies Day had its origin in the 19th century, but the Press-Gazette reported it would be the first ever in pro football.

"The Packers have known for years that a large number of women were among their most avid supporters," the paper noted in its announcement about the event. "But this is the first time they have been publicly honored at a Packer game."

Each woman attending the game was to receive a rose boutonniere.

The "Women's Quarterback Club" was organized a year after the "Men's Quarterback Club." The men's club was sponsored by the Green Bay Packers Alumni Association for the purpose of building interest in the team at a time when the Packers were in desperate financial straits.

Along with holding regular meetings during the season, the clubs also organized a dance held in 1952 and '53 at Green Bay's Riverside Ballroom.

By 1955, the "Women's Quarterback Club" had folded, and membership in the men's club had plummeted from roughly 1,500 to 300. It, too, was on the verge of shutting down. But the advent of television probably had more to do with the demise of both fan clubs than indifference.

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