Wilma Briggs was born in East Greenwich on November 6, 1930. One of 11 children, she grew up on a farm in the Frenchtown section of town. Her father, Fred Briggs, was a semi-professional baseball player and coach. As a young girl, after performing daily farm chores, Wilma typically joined her father and brothers in highly- competitive family baseball games. She soon proved that she was more than a “backyard” player.
By the time Wilma was thirteen, her home-grown skill earned her recognition and “at bats” on a local men’s team managed by her father; and, at sixteen, she became the first female ineto play on the East Greenwich High School boys’ baseball team.
Upon graduation from high school, Wilma was invited to try out for the famed “All- American Girls Professional Baseball League” (AAGPBL),which was the ground- breaking organization founded by Chicago Cubs owner359 Philip K. Wrigley in 1943. The AAGPBL was memorialized in the 1992 movie, “A League of Their Own”.
Wilma, though only a teenager, impressed management at the tryout, was offered a contract, and then went on to enjoy a stellar career with the Fort Wayne Daisies (1948- 1953) and the South Bend Blue Sox (1954). A graceful yet determined outfielder, she starred on teams that won two pennants. Wilma ultimately ranked second on the League’s All Time Home Run List (43) and 14th on the All-Time RBI List (301). Her great bat was supplemented by a good glove. She was named the League’s Best Defensive Outfielder in 1951 with a.987 fielding average.
While with the Daisies in 1952, Wilma was coached by Hall of Fame legend Jimmy Foxx, and in 1953 she led the league by stroking nine home runs. Although attaining “All Star” status in the early 1950s, Wilma’s professional baseball career ended in her prime with the demise of the League after the 1954 season. By then, Wilma had compiled a fine lifetime batting average of .258 in a total of 691 games.
At the tender age of 24, Wilma moved on to engage in a fulfilling and successful career off the field. She returned to Rhode Island, graduated from Barrington College with a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education, and then taught grade-schoolers at the Wickford Elementary School in North Kingstown until her retirement in 1992.
Wilma’s name is now prominently enshrined in the AAGPBL display at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. She was the first woman inducted into the East Greenwich Athletic Hall of Fame (1990), and she has been elected to the AAGPBL Players Association Board of Directors. In 1991, Wilma became the first recipient of the annual “Game of Legends Award.” She is truly a Rhode Island sports legend!
Wilma Hannah Briggs passed away peacefully in East Greenwich, the town of her birth on September 4, 2023. She was two months shy of celebrating her 93rd birthday. She was laid to rest in the Glenwood Cemetery in East Greenwich.
– James P. Marusak, Esq.