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In winning the golf competition at Paris 1900, Margaret Abbott became the USA’s first ever female Olympic champion, an achievement that she remained unaware of for the rest of her life.
Running from May to October 1900, the second edition of the Olympic Games of the modern era were held in conjunction with the Paris World Fair. These were the first Games to feature women, who competed in an eclectic mix of events that included tennis, archery, sailing, equestrianism, rowing, croquet, angling, life- saving, boules and golf.
Born in Kolkata, India, in 1878, Margaret Ives Abbott arrived in Paris in 1899. She was accompanied by her mother Mary, a literary reviewer and novelist, who wanted her to study art in the French capital and to make the most of their visit by attending the World Fair.
Both mother and daughter were accomplished golfers, with the young Margaret having made a name for herself back home in Chicago by winning a number of women’s tournaments. On discovering that an international women’s golf competition was being organised in Paris, they both entered, the first and only time to date that a mother and daughter have competed in the same Olympic event.
Named the “Prix de la ville de Compiègne”, the women’s golf tournament was held on 4 October 1900 at a nine-hole course at Compiègne, 80 kilometres north of Paris. Attracting 19 golfers in all and a large and sometimes overly enthusiastic crowd, the event was won by Margaret with a round of 47. Taking second place was Miss P. Whittier of St Moritz Golf Club, Switzerland, with Mrs Huger Pratt of the USA finishing third. Margaret’s mother took seventh place in what would be last women’s Olympic golf competition for 116 years.
With women not being admitted to the Games in an official capacity until Amsterdam 1928, the female athletes who competed at Paris 1900 were sporting pioneers, chief among them Margaret Abbott. As well as being women’s golf’s one and only Olympic champion through to Rio 2016, she was also her country’s first ever female gold medal winner, not that she was ever aware of having achieved such a feat, as it was only after her death that the competition she won was formally acknowledged to have been on the Olympic programme.
Two years after her victory in Paris she married the author Finley Peter Dunne, the creator of the famous satirical character Mr Dooley. The mother of four children, Margaret continued to play golf for her own enjoyment and died at the age of 77 on 10 June 1955.