Roller Babes: 1950s Women of Roller Derby
Reviewed By: Editorial Board
The Editorial Board of The Columbia Review accepts submissions from authors, publishers, directors, agents, producers and fans.

Imagine it’s 1950 — a time when society’s expectations for women were much different than they are now, basically to marry, have children, and make a home while men worked to earn a livelihood and pursued careers. Tim Patten’s “Roller Babes” adeptly takes us back to that time and brings us into the worlds of three teenage girls who wanted more out of life: to become professional roller derby stars.

Patten’s engaging story gives us a fascinating glimpse inside the lives of these girls, starting from the days before they even knew about the sport. “Roller Babes” focuses on teenagers Lottie, Rebecca, and Elsie Mae, characters, who are roughly based on the vaudeville-styled lives and experiences of many of America’s greatest roller derby athletes. We see the girls become aware of, and question societal expectations of women at the time and identify new possibilities through the discovery of a sport called roller derby. We learn about the role that roller derby played as a positive strategy for coping with the challenges of their childhoods and the sometimes challenging responses the girls experienced when sharing their hopes and dreams with loved ones.

Though it may have offered a way out, roller derby also presented them with challenges of its own. “Roller Babes” shares fascinating and provocative tales of “frenzied derby madness” and vindictive behaviors among the athletes. We learn about the barriers they encountered as they attempted to go down paths that were so different from their female counterparts who were living more traditional lives. “Roller Babes” beautifully honors the women of 1950s professional roller derby; women who reached above the limitations of their time and set the foundation for female athletes of the future.

As Patten notes, “Decades before the birth control pill, Gloria Steinem, or the National Organization for Women, these early paradigm-shifters of roller derby struggled for liberation from traditional societal roles. Some found success; others encountered the most heart-wrenching defeat. These early athletes had no women’s studies to encourage them, yet they developed remarkable drive. Their iron-willed spirit hurtled them across countless social obstacles on the path to their goals and dreams. Dedication to their sport rewarded these incredible professionals with adulation in the hearts and minds of Americans and enthusiasts around the world.”

“Roller Babes” is a fascinating and intensely emotional story about the 1950s women of roller derby. It offers us a closer look at legendary women who followed a non-traditional path to find satisfaction and success in their lives. Patten skillfully provides us with an in-depth and honest look at the lives of female athletics pioneers, trailblazing risk takers and brave sports innovators. Highly recommended!