Posts Tagged ‘1905 football deaths’

Roosevelt May Have Threatened to Ban Football in 1905

March 7, 2011

While searching for the names of football players killed in 1905, I came across some news articles that brought to mind one of Ron Smith’s criticisms of the article in the January edition of The Football Historian which was mentioned in earlier blogs. Smith stated, “President Theodore Roosevelt never threatened to ban football.  In fact, T.R. chided Harvard president Charles W. Eliot (President from 1869-1909) for wanting to ban it. (The TR myth often mentioned by writers is simply not true)”

John Watterson, who Smith referenced as a source to back up his position, discusses Roosevelt’s intervention: “He started a campaign for reform in football….Unfortunately for the president, football did not lend itself to mediation as readily as diplomacy or politics.” Watterson mentions that some historians concluded that the survival of college football was not threatened by the protests against its violence. He then points out that, even if later historians didn’t take the threats seriously, those tasked with reforming the game did at the time. That Columbia and Union College had abolished the game demonstrated to them that it was possible.

In early December 1905, Dr. J. William White, professor of surgery at the University of Pennsylvania, in a statement authorized by the president, released Theodore Roosevelt’s five-point reform platform that the authorities of the leading colleges must accept as a “gentlemen’s agreement” to reform football. His initiatives probably weren’t controversial, however, what came later may have been. The last paragraph stated: “It would be a real misfortune to lose so manly and vigorous a game as football, and to avert such a possibility the college authorities in each college should see to it that the game in that college is clean.” If you or I said that, it would mean little, but when President Theodore Roosevelt says it, I take it as a thinly veiled threat.

Names of Players Who Died in 1905

March 3, 2011
Follows is a list of all the 1905 football deaths that I have found so far (updated March 6). Please let me know of any others you may be aware of or have more information on these: 





Robert Brown, 15

Southeast H. S. Sedalia, MO

Injured 11/25

Paralyzed and unable to speak

James Edward Bryant, 16

Canon City H. S., CO



Bernadette Decker, 18

Girls team, Eckhart, MD

Died 11/3

Resembled malignant peritonitis

James C. Dondero, 27

Willimantic, CN


Cerebral hemorrhage superinduced by poor physical

G. C. Ficken

Southern Athletic Club jr. team



Charles W. Griffin, 18

Leominster H. S., MA

Died 11/23

Died after 2-week illness after being injured in a
football game. Injury may have intensified kidney trouble

William J. Kelley, 15

Masten Park H. S., Pittsburgh, PA



Horatio T. Knight, 18

Phillips Exeter Academy, NH

Injured in interclass game on 11/4, died 11/9

Meningitis superinduced by injuries

John Mehan, 15

h. s., Pacific Grove, CA


Fractured spine

Howard C. Montgomery, 17

Hampden Sidney College, Farmville, VA



Harold P. Moore, 19

Union College, Schenectady, NY in a game with NYU in New
York City


The head of an opponent who was running at full speed
struck Moore under the chin. He died soon after of a concussion of the brain
or a ruptured blood vessel at the Fordham hospital.

Carl Osborne, 18

Bellmore H. S., IN in a game against Marshall


Died immediately after a broken rib was driven through his

Arthur W. Foote, 13

Phillips Grammar School, Salem, MA

Died on 11/25 of injuries sustained in a recent game

Thought to have suffered internal injuries

William Seymour, 18

Coscob H. S., CN



James Squires, 16

Alton H. S., IL

Injured in game against East St. Louis on 10/21, died on

Kick on the knee resulted in blood poisoning

John S. Sommersgill, 21

Franklin vs Homestead, Chester, PA


Kicked in stomach & died soon afterward of a brain hemorrhage

Clarence von Bokkelen, 17

Santa Clara H. S., CA

11/4 in game with San Jose that was remarkable for its

Several others seriously injured

Leslie Wiz (Wise), 14

School team, Milwaukee, WI



Vernon Wise, 17

Oak Park H. S., IL

11/3 in game against Hyde Park H. S.


Herman Norgaard

Council Bluffs H. S., IA in a game against Harlan, IA

Injured 10/8, died 11/10

Abscess of the brain

John Gordon

Sullivan, IN

Injured 12/19, died within 10 days


Walter Frey, 15

Canton, OH

Died 11/30 of injuries received several weeks ago


Harry Rowe, 18

Sidney, IA


Internal ruptures sustained in football game



1905 Football Deaths

March 1, 2011

In mid-February, I reported on Ron Smith’s corrections to a piece in of The College Football Historian, the January newsletter of the Intercollegiate Football Researchers Association (IFRA). I thought that one of Smith’s items warranted a further look:

“2) If 18 players died in the 1905, nearly all were NOT college players, (The 18 college death’s myth is often noted by writers.)”

So, I spent a little time searching through old newspapers and found the number of football deaths for 1905 listed variously as 13, 18 ,19, 19 (with one happening in Canada), and 21. Along the way, I found some lists of “Football Victims,” none of which were complete and overlapped each other. So far, I have identified 20 individual people who died in 1905 as a result of football injuries. It’s clear that at least twenty Americans died playing football that year and there may have been more. One of the deaths stands out because it was so different from anything I expected to find.

Bernadette Decker of Eckhart, Maryland—that’s right, an 18-year-old girl—died from a “…malady of short duration resembling malignant peritonitis, resultant from injuries received in a game of football played by the girls.” One assumes that she was playing in a sandlot game, a physical education class, or some sort of exhibition, such as one for a fund raiser because no team or school name was mentioned. Bernadette was not the sort of person the “experts” would expect to be injured in a game because they often attributed serious injuries to poor physical condition.

New Castle News reported about the demise of the daughter of Magistrate Edward Decker, Democratic leader in Eckhart: “Miss Decker was a girl of fine physique and was devoted to athletes. Four physicians constantly in attendance could do nothing to check the disease.”

What actually happens is stranger than anything my not-very-fertile-imagination could invent.