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Women's History Month

Two for Tuesday: First female Globetrotter Lynette Woodard and trailblazing comedian Moms Mabley

They both paved the way for other women in their fields to thrive

This week’s Two for Tuesday features a trailblazer in comedy, Moms Mabley, and Lynette Woodard, who is an Olympic gold medalist, the first female Globetrotter and a WNBA standout.

Lynette Woodard

When the Harlem Globetrotters were looking to add a female basketball player to their roster in 1985, they added Olympic gold medalist Lynette Woodard. She immediately made history by becoming the first female member of the Globetrotters, where she spent two years. She later signed with the newly formed WNBA, where she played two seasons.

Born in Wichita, Kansas, Woodard led her team to a state championship during a sophomore year in 1975. As a senior, she was an All-American. She went on to play at the University of Kansas, where she earned her bachelor’s degree in speech communications and human relations. While at Kansas, she scored the most points in NCAA women’s basketball history (3,649). She also made the most field goals (1,572) and had the most field goals attempted (2,994). She set school records in rebounds (1,714), free throws made (505), steals (522), and games played (139).

She spent two years in the Italian women’s league and led all players in scoring. She was the captain of the 1984 Olympic team. She played two seasons in the WNBA for the Cleveland Rockers and the Detroit Shock.

According to biography.com, Woodard has been inducted into 10 halls of fame, including the Naismith Hall of Fame (2002), Women’s Basketball Hall of Fame (2005), and the African-American Sports Hall of Fame (2006).

Publicity still portrait of American actress and comedienne Jackie ‘Moms’ Mabley for Mercury Records, 1965.

John D. Kisch/Separate Cinema Archive/Getty Images

Moms Mabley

Moms Mabley was a trailblazer in her time and was the first black female comedian to grace the stage of the Apollo Theater in Harlem in the 1930s. Her stand-up routine challenged racial bigotry and her albums were funny with a tad bit of raunch.

Mabley’s stand-up persona was that of an old lady in a housedress who often brought to light racial bigotry in the form of humor. But offstage, she was young and glamorous, not allowing female traditionalism to define her.

Mabley was born Loretta Mary Aiken in Brevard, North Carolina, in the 1890s. Her firefighter father was killed in an explosion, followed by her mother who was later hit by a truck. According to biography.com, she endured a traumatic childhood including two rapes in her teens that both resulted in pregnancies.

Mabley didn’t let her traumatic childhood define her. She left home at the age of 14 and later joined the African-American vaudeville circuit as a comedian under the Theatre Owners Booking Association. It was there that she met Jack Mabley. The two entered a short relationship, but it was long enough for her to take his name. She became Jackie Mabley, eventually leading her to change her shtick to that of a nurturing role, leading her to evolve into “Moms.”

Films she appeared in include The Big Timers (1945), Boarding House Blues (1948), and the musical revue Killer Diller (1948), which featured Nat King Cole and Butterfly McQueen.

She also dived into a recording career with Chess Records when The Funniest Woman Alive became gold-certified. Other albums include Moms Mabley at the Playboy Club, Moms Mabley at the “UN” and Young Men, Si Old Men, No. She appeared on variety shows such as The Ed Sullivan Show, and performed at Carnegie Hall.

Mabley died on May 23, 1975. Comedian, actor and The View co-host Whoopi Goldberg paid homage to Mabley with her documentary Moms Mabley: I Got Somethin’ to Tell You, which was presented at the Tribeca Film Festival and was aired on HBO in 2013.

Kelley Evans is a general editor at The Undefeated. She is a food passionista, helicopter mom and an unapologetic southerner who spends every night with the cast of The Young and the Restless by way of her couch.