Below: These were the Red Heads.
Below: Jessie Banks is the top right, Katherine Pitcock is to her left. And I believe Zethel Keith is at the bottom left. Sorry, the bottom is cut off in this promotional poster.
Here's how it got started. In 1936 C. M. Olsen recruited and hired seven female players who had all played on various basketball teams that were part of the American Athletic Union. The women were great players, one of them was 6-feet tall, and two of the seven women had red hair. (After the first few years, Olson or team members must have turned to dye or henna treatments as later descriptions of the team report them all as red heads.) They were also reported to be attractive.
The first year the team played 133 games in six months, traveling to nearly 30 states. After that the requests poured in, and Olson established a schedule where he would book the team for six solid months and then they would have time off until the following season.
The All American Red Heads traveled cross-country, playing to packed houses almost every night; occasionally they played double-headers. A reporter for Life magazine (4/1939) writes that audiences paid 25-40 cents to come to the games to "see female muscle seriously pitted against male muscle." The Life reporter described their "circus like shooting" and "rough style."
Below: The Red Heads show off their dribbling skills.
Over time, the women perfected a system. They would try to start the game strong and get ahead; then they would ease off and do more fancy dribbling and trick shots. This was accompanied by a good amount of flirting with the opposing team, with the referees, and with the audience. Toward the end of the game, they would reapply pressure with the intents of bringing in the win. The system was entertaining and very successful. They won more games than they lost with a 70 percent win rate for most years.
Off court, the women who signed on to play for the Red Heads also agreed to a strict behavior policy. Olsen knew that impeccable behavior in public-- including no smoking or drinking-- was vital to their image.
The popularity of the team grew exponentially. In 1948, Olsen sold the team to Orwell Moore, a basketball coach whose wife played for the Red Heads for a time. Moore hired a second team of Red Heads to travel; by 1964 until 1971 he had three teams touring during the season.
Below: A "Red Heads" uniform. There were many different versions over the years. This is just one example.
Below: Another example of uniforms worn by The Red Heads.