Margaret Abbott Aced Team USA’s First Women’s Olympic Gold Medal And Didn’t Know It

By Stuart Lieberman | March 21, 2016, 4:13 p.m. (ET)


Margaret Abbott was one of Team USA’s pioneers from the early days of the modern Olympic Games, the first of which was held in 1896 in Athens.

At 23 years old, she became one of the first American women to take part in an Olympic event, competing in the women’s golf tournament at the Paris 1900 Games.

And guess what?

Margaret Abbott was the first American woman to win a gold medal in an Olympic event.

She won.

At those Games, athletes were given artifacts rather than medals, with Abbott winning a bowl for her top performance.

What’s ironic is that in her lifetime, Abbott would never know she was the first American woman to become an Olympic champion.

Abbott, who passed away at age 77 on June 10, 1955, was one of 22 women who participated in competition at the Paris 1900 Games, the first time women were allowed to compete on the Olympic stage.

She shot a 47 in the nine-hole tournament, claiming the title in a field that also included her mother, novelist Mary Abbott, who shot a 9-hole score of 65 to finish seventh.

Unlike today, some Olympic events back then were contested over a period of several months. Abbott, a Chicago native who had gone to Paris the year prior to study art, had approached the Olympic women’s golf tournament thinking it was just another competition, as only recent research has established the event was officially on the Olympic program for those Games.

Even after she passed away, Abbott’s children didn’t know their mother was an Olympic champion until close to the turn of the last century, when they were contacted by University of Florida professor Paula Welch. As a member of the university’s department of exercise and sport sciences, Welch lectures on the Olympic Games and its history, claiming herself to be somewhat of an Olympic detective.

Fast-forward to today, and the Rio 2016 Olympic Games in August will be the first time golf is included in the Olympic program since 1904 and the first time the women’s individual golf event is contested at Games since Abbott won it in 1900.

There are expected to be 60 golfers in the women’s individual field in Rio.

Can another American woman start where Abbott left off?

Stuart Lieberman covered Paralympic sports for three years at the International Paralympic Committee, including at the London 2012 and Sochi 2014 Games. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.