Margaret Abbott, a woman who competed and was part of the poorly-organized 1900 Olympics.
Margaret Ives Abbott (June 15, 1878 – June 10, 1955) was the first American woman to win an Olympic event. She won the women’s golf tournament, consisting of nine holes, with a score of 47, at the 1900 Paris Games.
Born in Calcutta, Abbot was the daughter of Charles and Mary Abbott. Charles died when Margaret was very young and after his death, the family moved to Boston.
When Abbott was a teenager, her mother took a job as the literary editor of The Chicago Herald and the family moved to Illinois. In Illinois, Abbott began playing golf and soon began winning local championships.
Mary and Margaret Abbott lived in Paris from 1899 to 1902. While in Paris, Mary researched a travel guide and Margaret studied art with Rodin and Degas.
At the 1900 Paris Olympics, 22 women competed out of a total 997 athletes. It was the first time women were allowed to compete in the Olympic Games. The 1900 Olympics stretched over six months and were something of a sideshow of the Paris Exhibition. The women’s golf tournament was held on October 4, 1900 at a nine-hole course at Compiègne, north of Paris. Golf Illustrated referred to the medal event as “The international golf competition recently held… in connection with the Paris Exhibition.”
The games were so poorly organized and publicized that many competitors, including Abbott, did not realize that the events they entered were part of the Olympics. Historical research did not establish that the game was on the Olympic program until after Abbott’s death, so she herself never knew it.
Margaret Abbott was not an official member of the U.S. Olympic team, she competed because she played golf and happened to be in France. She won with a 9-hole score of 47. Abbott was awarded a porcelain bowl for first place in golf. The 1900 Games were the only Olympics at which winners received valuable artifacts instead of medals.
All the competitors played in long skirts and fashionable hats, but according to Abbott, some “apparently misunderstood the nature of the game scheduled for the day and turned up to play in high heels and tight skirts.”
Mary Abbott also entered the competition. She shot a 9-hole score of 65 and finished seventh. This was the only time in Olympic history that a mother and daughter competed in the same sport in the same event at the same Olympics.
Women’s golf would not be seen again at the Olympics until the 2016 Games in Rio.
Later life and legacy
Margaret Abbott married the writer Finley Peter Dunne in 1902. They had three sons and a daughter including Philip Dunne who became a noted screenwriter.
Abbot died, at age 76 on June 10, 1955 in Greenwich, Connecticut.
In 1996, Margaret Abbot was the featured athlete of the 1900 Olympic games in the official Olympic program of the Atlanta games.
In 2018, the New York Times published a belated obituary for her.