In 1897 Dr. Louis Cooke, the men's basketball coach, one of the first paid coaches at the U of M, wrote an article in the school newspaper The Ariel, "Necessity of Girls Sports". Despite the foolish sounding title, to a modern reader, women's sports in the late 19th century was less organized than men's sports and many thought it was inappropriate for girls and women to play sports. While it was being debated in the papers the female students kept playing.
A 1901 article in the Minneapolis Tribune "Basket Ball As A Game For The Girls" discussed the value of exercise while playing sports. Things like 'fresh air' and 'training' were the same arguments that men had made to play organized baseball and football a few decades earlier. According to the Minnesota Daily article, the women's basketball games were played during the halftime of the men's game.
The 1902 women's basketball team is the earliest team I can find records for, despite having had a team on campus since at least 1896.
Not sure what the bird is doing in there. As you can see the schedule lists all high schools. Early on there weren't other college teams to play, but girls high school basketball was gaining popularity. Captain and right forward, Elizabeth Jones, who went by Bess, was a socialite whose name turns up often in the Society pages of the newspaper as she attended all of the fancy parties of the time.
I think it's interesting that there are two listed starters at right guard, both named Florence. Was there a Florence controversy? Sadly Minnesota lost to 'Stanley Hall' on February 24 9-4, but overall finishing 8-1. Shout out to West Superior High and West Superior Normal for coming down to Dinkytown to get beat at the end of the season. The games were played in the armory in front of full crowds.
The first intercollegiate basketball game was played March 28, 1905 against Nebraska. That game was played in Minneapolis, the Gophers were victorious 30-22. About a month later the women traveled to Lincoln for a rematch and promptly had their first loss in intercollegiate play, 30-18.
The women from the 1905 basketball team also hold the distinction of being the first females to earn letters from the University. Emily Johnston, Elizabeth J. Cox, Sylvia S. Frank, Hattie Van Bergen, and Mabel E. Smith all lettered in basketball. Letters would not be awarded to women again for quite a few years.