By Ken Zurski
In 1900, 22-year-old Margaret Abbott was an American in Paris studying art and living with her mother when she read a newspaper ad looking for women to compete in a golf tournament. The contest, the ad read, was open to all amateurs.
So Abbott, a skilled golfer back in her hometown of Chicago, took a break from her studies and urged her Parisian friends, even her mother, to do the same.
Together they played a nine-hole match, which to no one’s surprise, Abbott won by two shots and a total score of 47. Her closest opponent the papers reported, “Had more than one piece of luck in getting bunkered and hitting trees.” Abbott’s mother, Mary, an accomplished novelist, finished 18 strokes behind her daughter.
Abbott was modest in victory, playfully claiming it was due to her conservative attire. “[The other ladies] apparently misunderstood the nature of the game,” she said, “and turned up to play in high heels and tight skirts.” Abbott, for her part, wore a long dress that swept the grass.
Abbott may not have known it at the time, but the Olympic Games – the second of its kind- was being held in Paris that summer. Or was it? No one was quite sure. The Games were an unorganized and confusing mess. There was no opening or closing ceremonies and contests were spread out over six months. In fact, there was so much confusion about schedules that few spectators or journalists were present at the events, which were so slipshod in preparation, that no one, not even the participants, knew if it counted.
Despite this uncertainty, nearly 1000 athletes showed up to compete. And for the first time, women, were included too.
Abbott by association, was one.
That’s because the sport of golf – and the match Abbott won – turned out to be a part of the overall competition.
So Abbott, who never knew she was competing for such an honor, is considered the first woman to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games.
A distinction which comes with a clarification.
No medals were awarded that year.
For her efforts, Abbott won a porcelain bowl.