Hoops Skirts

Stella Vaughn occupies a special place in Vanderbilt’s historyon and off the court

Vaughn (Front row, left) and the Hoop Stars, 1896

On March 13, 1897, a curious event unfolded in Vanderbilt’s gymnasium. Although the student body was almost exclusively male, only women were allowed entrance to the building that morning. Windows were blocked to shield activities within from prying eyes.

Inside, young women in bloomers and capacious blouses began a rousing game of basketball. The sport had been invented five years earlier, and Vanderbilt’s men had played their first game in 1893.

Now it was the women’s big moment. A crowd of females watched as Stella Vaughn led her team in a contest against the young ladies of Ward Seminary. The game remained scoreless until the last seconds, when Vaughn threw a long pass to a teammate. Elizabeth Buttorff lobbed a shot into the basket. The Vanderbilt women won their first game, and with that, Stella Vaughn launched her career as their first basketball coach.

Few people in the university’s history have been as loyal to Vanderbilt as long as Stella Scott Vaughn. She grew up on campus—in what is now known as The Vaughn Home, which currently houses the Robert Penn Warren Center for the Humanities—and entered Vanderbilt as one of 10 female students in the Academic Department in 1892. After her 1896 graduation, Vaughn remained on campus to teach women’s physical education and formed the women’s basketball team, serving as coach and team captain. She also took on the unofficial role as dean of women students.

“The girls at Vanderbilt have worked against the odds,” Vaughn once remarked, “but they are a ‘plucky bunch’ and not easily discouraged. They have slowly but surely won a place for themselves by their perseverance.”

Vaughn was inducted into the Vanderbilt Athletic Hall of Fame in 2015.

Learn more about the life of Stella Vaughn.