‘Living my dream’

Retiring Marshall history professor embarks on her next chapter as CEO of International Women’s Baseball Center
Kat Williams, retiring professor of Women’s History (photo from herald-dispatch.com)

Dr. Kat Williams looks at her career and sees herself as fortunate.

Not every professor has gotten to work in a place that allows you to morph and grow, she says, and not everyone gets to have a job that that makes you excited about getting out of bed each morning.

Dr. Kat Williams speaks at Marshall University

Williams has had both.

As she prepares to retire this year and deliver her last lecture at 6 p.m. Monday, March 25, in the Shawkey Room of the Memorial Student Center, Williams hopes that she’s left her students with some lasting lessons, and she hopes to continue her role as an educator, but with an entirely different mission.

As the new CEO of the International Women’s Baseball Center (IWBC), based in Rockford, Illinois, she hopes to spread the word about the history and the continued importance of women in the male-dominated sport.

The title of her lecture on March 25: “Why Women’s History?” It’s free and open to everyone.

“That is how I started every class I ever taught at Marshall,” Williams said. “I thought it was appropriate to start my last lecture that way as well.”

Williams has been at Marshall for 23 years, teaching U.S. women’s history and the history of sports. She’s been on a leave of absence this academic year, after being named the CEO of the IWBC last year, following nine years of service to the organization in other capacities.

“‘It’s all about perspective.’ That is my teaching philosophy in one sentence.”- Dr. Kat Williams

At Marshall, she hopes she’s taught more than simply the facts of history.

“I hope that I have also inspired students to question, to understand that history is an interpretation and that it changes, that it is important for them to think for themselves, to analyze and be critical and not just take whatever the narrative is as gospel,” Williams said. “The phrase I always use is, ‘It’s all about perspective.’ That is my teaching philosophy in one sentence. No matter what we’re talking about, there is always more than one perspective, whether we’re talking about World War II, politics, or the Suffrage movement.  Unless we read about, listen and think about those perspectives, we don’t really have a clear understanding of whatever the event is.”

Williams also is a former director of Women’s Studies at Marshall and hopes that she’s left both men and women who took her classes with the message that women are an important part of the narrative, just as men are.

“It’s OK to be loud. It’s OK to take up space and have a different opinion and be whatever you want to be.”- Dr. Kat Williams

“I hope I have left, certainly, young women with even a tiny bit of inspiration,” she said. “It’s OK to be loud. It’s OK to take up space and have a different opinion and be whatever you want to be. I feel that if I’ve done that for even a few students, my career has been successful.”

That’s exactly what she plans to do in her new role leading the IWBC, an organization which she helped found in 2014 and for which she has been board president.  Its mission is to preserve and protect the history of girls and women in all aspects of baseball internationally. It runs the historic field where the Rockford Peaches played in the 1940s and 50s, and the organization is in a capital campaign to raise funds for a new building to house a museum, a hall of fame and also location for clinics and other activities.

Dr. Kat Williams signs a baseball jersey for a young girl

Women’s baseball has long been an area of interest for her, beginning when she was a girl playing baseball in the street or the fields around her house.

“I played competitive fast pitch softball, also pre-Title IX,” she said.

She has authored two books about women in baseball: The All-American Girls After the AAGPBL: How Playing Pro Ball Shaped Their Lives” and “Isabel ‘Lefty’ Alvarez: The Improbable Life of a Cuban American Baseball Star.” She’s writing a third book about baseball player Maybelle Blair.

Williams was also a consultant on the Amazon TV show “A League of Their Own” and a “big supporter of what of what they did,” she said. “It was not a remake of the movie – it was taking a deeper dive into some of the issues like race and sexuality and class and things like that, which were happening at that same time.”

In her years teaching at Marshall, the Department of History supported Williams as her interest in sports grew, she said.

Headshot of Dr. Kat Williams

“When I was hired as a women’s history professor at Marshall, I was very fortunate to enter into a history department that supported me and allowed me to morph and change as my interests changed,” she said. “I brought in women’s history and women’s sport history classes and regular sport history classes as we began, outside, to create the International Women’s Baseball Center.  My department and the College of Liberal Arts supported that growth and my efforts, and I would not have been able to change and grow as an academic and as a professional had it not been for their support.”

This new chapter is already busy and exciting, she said, adding that along with leading fundraising, she serves as the face of the IWBC, which involves speaking publicly, doing podcasts and getting involved in awareness opportunities. Women’s baseball is huge internationally, she said, with the United States not even close to leading the 37 countries that have women who play.

“It may be 2024, but the reality is that many people say, ‘Why does this matter? Girls just play softball.’ Yeah, they don’t,” she said. “Women have always been part of baseball. It didn’t start in 1943 with the All Americans and it didn’t stop in the 1954 when the All Americans ended.”

An educator to the core, she’s just educating in a new way, Williams said.

“I am living my dream,” she said. “The IWBC and what we’re doing, that is why I’m on the planet. I’m very confident in that and very fortunate.”