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Donahoe, Claire Schillace (3/29/1921 - 1/17/1999)

By Louie Estrada, Washington Post Staff Writer

Claire (Schillace) Donahoe, 77, a Chevy Chase resident who was one of the first four women drafted for the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League in 1943, and as a speedy center fielder for the Racine (Wis.) Belles, secured a place in baseball history, died of a blood clot in the lung Jan.17 at Suburban Hospital.

Mrs. Donahoe was a student at Northern Illinois University and playing in a Chicago suburban softball league when World War II began, thinning the ranks of major league baseball players.  Concerned about the immediate future of baseball, Chicago Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley hit upon the idea of women playing professional baseball and created the league with teams in small Midwestern cities.

Mrs. Donahoe, a native of Chicago, was a star high school softball player and track athlete who learned the fundamentals of fielding and batting from her brothers.

Scouts recruiting from the women's softball leagues were impressed by her speed and offered her a contract of $75 a week, considered big money in those days.

From 1943 to 1946, she played four grueling 126 game seasons with the Belles.

It was no easy chore to fulfill Wrigley's vision that the players look pretty while playing hard.

Clad in a uniform that included a short skirt and tights, she took the field under her maiden name, Claire Schillace.

She batted .202 with two home runs and 112 RBIs, and she stole 153 bases and registered 226 walks.

In an interview with The Washington Post in June, Mrs. Donahoe recalled that base sliding resulted in terrible bruises on the legs.

In the off-season, she completed her undergraduate degree at Northern Illinois University and obtained a master's degree in physical education from New York University.

The league received renewed attention after the 1992 Penny Marshall film "A League of Their Own," starring Geena Davis, Rosie O'Donnell and Madonna was released.  Mrs. Donahoe, who was honored by the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1990, had a minor appearance in the movie and served as a consultant during its filming.

"I'd had my fling with baseball," Mrs. Donahoe said of leaving the league after the 1946 season.  "I was due to get married, and I decided it was time to get out."

She accompanied her husband, Joseph Donahoe, who then worked for what became the U.S. Agency for International Development, to posts in Germany, Ethiopia, Bolivia, and Iran.

She worked as a teacher in those countries and volunteered as a counselor in youth organizations including Little League.

They later settled in the Washinton area.  From 1965 until the late 1970s, she was a physical education teacher at Kensington Junior High School.  She remained active in the alumnae organization of the women's league and worked with Baltimore's Babe Ruth Museum, located in Camden Yards, which last year installed an exhibit on the women's professional league.  The exhibit features a life-size photo of Mrs. Donahoe and donated memorabilia from her playing days.

Her husband died in 1994.  Survivors include four children, James Donahoe of Oakland, Calif., Michael Donahoe of Washington, John Donahoe of Chevy Chase and John Callahan of Houston; and four grandchildren.

Contributed by: Helen Nordquist
Submitted on: 03/23/2014
Copyright: Washington Post, Jan. 23, 1999

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