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Abbott, Margaret I.

b. June 15, 1878, Calcutta, India
d. June 10, 1955

The little-known Abbott was the first American woman to win an Olympic gold medal, and she didn't even know it. It happened during the poorly organized Paris Games of 1900, the second modern Olympics, when even some of the track and field medalists thought they were competing in just another track meet.

Abbott, the daughter of novelist Mary Ives Abbott, had gone to Paris with her mother in 1899 to study art. The following year, she was one of ten women who entered a 9-hole golf tournament. The other women, she light-heartedly told relatives, "apparently misunderstood the nature of the game scheduled for the day and turned up to play in high heels and tight skirts." Abbott, more sensibly attired, won the tournament with a 47.

In 1902 she married political satirist Finley Peter Dunne, creator of "Mr. Dooley." She never knew she'd won an Olympic event; only recent research has established that the tournament was on the 1900 Olympic program.

(from http://www.hickoksports.com/biograph/abbottma.shtml#other)


July 9, 1996
Writer: John Lester,jclester@ufl.edu
Source: Paula Welch, (352) 392-0584 ext. 274, (352) 462-7087

GAINESVILLE --- Margaret Abbott may finally be getting the credit she deserves.

Her anonymity is understood though. Even Abbott didn't know she was America's first female Olympic champion.

Abbott was a golfer who, in 1900, shot 47 for nine holes during a tournament in Paris. She won a bowl and recalled the victory to her family as just another tournament, although somewhat bigger than the competitions she was used to in Chicago.

Even her living children didn't know their mother was an Olympic champion until they were contacted by University of Florida professor Paula Welch. A member of the department of exercise and sport sciences, Welch teaches about the Olympics and sport history, but is also somewhat of an Olympic detective.

"I spent about 10 years -- not every day of course -- tracking Abbott down," Welch said. "She never knew she was an Olympic champion. It was a piece of Olympic history that I felt people should know more about."

Now, finally, people do know. Abbott is the featured athlete of the 1900 Olympic games in the official Olympic program for this year's centennial games in Atlanta. She was one of 11 women who participated in the competition that year, the first year women were allowed to compete.

During the first sanctioned Olympic Games 100 years ago, women were not even allowed to watch, much less participate. By 1900, the women were included in three sports -- golf, croquet and tennis, Welch said

But it wasn't until after the 1900 games were over that the International Olympic Committee decided they would include some of the events as Olympic competition.

Pigeon-flying and fire-extinguishing did not make the cut.

But golf did, as did tennis, which was won earlier in the day by a British woman now

in history as the first female Olympic champion. But Abbott was notable for another reason, Welch said. One of Abbott's competitors in that Olympic golf tournament was her mother, who shot a 9-hole score of 65.

"It's the only time a mother and daughter were in the same event at the same time," Welch said.

Welch said it's nice to see America's first female champion recognized, because women have long been excluded from the Olympics.

"As the years progressed, the Olympics were slow in adding women's sports," she said. But the opportunities opened substantially in 1928 when women were added to the track and field competitions.

Now, the focus has turned to the Olympic leaders, the International Olympic Committee.

"There is an effort on the part of the IOC to include more women," Welch said. "But there have been cultural and religious hurdles to overcome."

Despite the unwillingness of some countries to include women on their Olympic teams, there are more and more opportunities available to women athletes.

For the 1996 games, there are four new sports in which women can compete: softball, soccer, beach volleyball and mountain biking. New sports for men include beach volleyball and mountain biking.

Welch said it's difficult to say how much more can be done because there are already 10,000 athletes scheduled to compete in Atlanta. But, Welch said, when new sports are added, they include men's and women's competitions.

Such a practice would have been unheard of in Margaret Abbott's day, when women's sports were reported on the society pages, the Olympics lasted several months as a "side show" to the World's fair and the Games included competitions such as tug-of-war.

(from http://www.napa.ufl.edu/oldnews/women.htm)

1900 Summer Olympics
Paris, France

Golf Men
Charles Sands USA 167 GOLD
Walter Rutherford GBR 168 SILVER
David Robertson GBR 175 BRONZE

Golf Women
Margaret Abbott USA 47 GOLD
Polly Whittier USA 49 SILVER
Daria Pratt USA 53 BRONZE

(from http://www.databaseolympics.com/games/gamessport.htm?g=2&sp=GOL)

1900 Olympics
Site: Paris, France
Dates: May 20 - October 28
Nations: 22
Total Athletes: 1,330
Sports: 17

Paris, France, was the host of the second modern day Olympic Games. However, historians were very critical of these games due to lack of organization. The symbolism displayed in Athens four years earlier, was nearly extinguished by the committee preparing the Games in France.

The problems arising from these Games ultimately served as a seminar on how not to host an international event such as the Olympics. A circus-like atmosphere permeated the Games. There was for instance, no opening or closing ceremonies. Events were spread out over a span of six months and were so scattered that today, it is difficult for historians to determine which events were classified under the Olympic flag. Due to this, it is difficult for historians to accurately determine the significance of women in these Games.

IOC President Baron Pierre de Coubertin, while promoting physical education for girls and women, was not in favor of their public competition. As such, the IOC never officially approved the participation of women, although the French Exhibition authorities staged events for them anyway.

Historians are puzzled as to whether to credit Swiss Helene de Portales as the first woman Olympic champion for her performance in yachting. Portales won the event on May 25, some 1 ½ months shy of what has been tabbed the actual start of track and field events (July 14). Great Britain's Charlotte Cooper would seem to have the same problem, capturing the tennis event on July 11.

Using that criteria, does the distinction of the first woman Olympic champion go to Margaret Abbott of the United States, who captured the golf event on October 3, although golf was never approved as an Olympic sport and would never appear on any future Olympic program?

Ironically, these three women were totally unaware that they were participating for a medal. These were staged as international exhibitions during the course of the Olympics by the French committee, thereby clouding what events were to be attributed to the Olympic Games.

Frenchman Michael Theato did not find out until 12 years later that he had won the marathon. He was fortunate, as many athletes were never informed they were Olympic champions.

Swimming events were held in the Seine, bereft with boats, waves, heat and garbage.

Track and Field competitions were held on the grass turf of the Racing Club de France in the Bois de Boulogne. The disorganization led to very few spectators.

The Americans dominated track and field as they did in Athens, winning 17 of 23 gold medals, while increasing their all-time Olympic total to 26 firsts in 35 events.

The Parisians treated the Games as an affair of state, promoting national presitige over international and global unity. The surprise here was the Coubertin held little influence over the direction of the games amongst his own people.

Coubertin attempted, with minimal success, to create a private Olympic Games organizing committee populated with Parisian notables. Needless to say, this was denounced swiftly from the global committee. Coubertin was forced to disband the committee and except for the benefit of the international community that a second modern Olympic Games had been held in France.

(from http://www.sportsnetwork.com/default.asp?c=globe&page=olymp/2004/history.htm)

  This page published by Gillian Kirkwood