What Was So Special About Women’s Golf at the 1900 Olympics?
Margaret Abbott was an Olympic champion, but she never knew it. Despite being the first American woman to win an Olympic title, the golfer never realized that the competition she had won in Paris in 1900 was an Olympic event.
The women's golf tournament at the 1900 Olympics was historic for another reason, too. Margaret, who was studying art in Paris at the time, and her mother, Mary, both took part. To date, this was the only time when a mother and daughter competed in the same event at the same Olympic Games. Mary Abbott tied for 7th place.
Strange as it may seem, it isn't surprising that Abbott never realized she had won an Olympic title. The Paris Games were only the second modern Olympics, and they were very different from more recent Games. The events were spread out from May to October, with some as demonstrations and others as "official" sports. Kite flying, tug-of-war, and pigeon racing were among the lineup.
To complicate matters further, the Paris Exposition was happening at the same time, with a variety of other special events taking place in the region. The golf tournament, which took place in Compiègne, 30 miles (48 km) north of Paris, was likely known as the "Exposition Competition" or the "Paris World's Fair Competition," thus Margaret Abbott did not realize she had entered an Olympic event.
The significance of Margaret Abbott's victory was discovered long after her death by historian Paula Welch at the University of Florida. In the 1970s, Welch, who had completed her dissertation on American women in the Olympics, noticed Abbott's name on a winner's plaque at the U.S. Olympic Committee headquarters. Intrigued, Welch spent the next decade piecing together Abbott's story.
The unknowing Olympic champion:
- The golf tournament took place in October, with the women playing nine holes. Margaret shot a 47 to win the competition, with fellow American golfers Pauline Whittier and Daria Huger Pratt placing second and third, respectively. All of the women wore long dresses and hats.
- Women were only permitted to compete in five sports at the 1900 Olympics – golf, tennis, sailing, equestrian, and rowing. They made up only 22 of the 997 athletes at the Paris Games. Interestingly, golf would disappear from the Olympic schedule after the 1904 Games and would not reappear until 2016.
- After her return to the United States, Margaret Abbott married the writer Finley Peter Dunne and had four children. A longtime Chicago resident, Abbott continued to play golf, but not at a particularly competitive level.
- Despite her Olympic victory, Margaret Abbott is not considered one of the best golfers of all time due to the limited competition she faced and the lack of recognition for her achievement at the time. However, her victory at the 1900 Olympics solidifies her place in golf history as one of the earliest female champions in the sport.
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