This year, the last event with gender barriers was broken – women can now box at the Olympic games. It made me start thinking about how the games have changed for women over the years. We’ve come a long way from the first Olympics in 1886 where no women participated at all! In 1900, women participated in the Olympics in lawn games.
Margaret Ives Abbott won gold at the 1900 Olympic games in golf. She is recognized as the first female US Olympiad winner. (source)
Marion Jones took home the bronze medal in 1900 for tennis.
In 1904, Lida Howell Scott became America’s first female gold medalist in archery.
Though women were allowed to compete in swimming events at the Olympic games in 1912, the US did not because they still had a rule that prohibited female athletes from participating in events without wearing long skirts.
From left to right, United State’s Ethelda Bleibtrey, New Zealand’s first female Olympian, Violet Walrond (fifth-placed), Jane Gylling (sixth-placed, Sweden), Frances Schroth (bronze medallist, USA), Irene Guest (silver medallist, USA), and Constance Jeans (fourth-placed, England).
In 1920, (the 1916 Olympics were cancelled because of WWI), Ethelda Bleibtrey took home the gold medal in swimming for the United States. She started swimming in 1917 to help in her recovery from polio. (source)
Helen Wills won gold in both singles and doubles tennis at the Paris Olympic games in 1924. She was the first female to do so and never lost a singles match in her career. The photo on the right shows Helen Wills, left, and Didi Vlasto, just before the Gold Medal match. (image source)
1924 was also the first year that women could compete in fencing events at the Olympics. Though the US didn’t medal that year, Adelaide Gehrig placed 4th.
In Amsterdam in 1928, a whole new world was opened up for women when they were able compete in track and field events at the Olympics for the first time.
Elizabeth Robinson was the first track and field female gold medalist in Olympic history.
Lillian Copeland won a silver medal in discus at the 1928 Olympics.
In 1932, at the Olympic games in Los Angeles, Helene Madison (far right), won 3 gold medals for swimming. She is shown here with her teammates Helen Johns and Eleanor Garrati Saville
The 3 medals that Babe Didrikson Zaharias won in track and field events made her and Helene Madison the most decorated athletes of the summer games that year. Shown here with a javelin at the 1932 Olympics in Los Angeles (image source)
Dorothy Poynton Hill also took home the gold for the US at the Los Angeles Olympics that year for diving – shown here performing a swan dive. (image source)
The Womens Swimming Team as they sailed July 15, 1936 on the Manhattan for Berlin and the Olympic Games. Left to right are; Edith Mobridge, Eleanor Holm Jarrett, Katherine Rawls, Dorothy Poynton Hill, Lenore Kight Wingard. (source)
The 1940 and 1944 Olympic games were cancelled because of WWII, but in 1948, at the London games, Alice Coachman set an Olympic record with this high jump and won the only gold medal for the U.S. team. She also became the first African-American woman in U.S. Olympic history to win a gold medal.
Alice Coachman (far right) with teammates watching the 1948 Olympic games
From left to right, Madeleine Moreau of France and Americans Patricia McCormick and Zoe Jensen after the women’s springboard diving event at the Summer Olympics Games in 1952
In the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, diver Patricia McCormick won gold in both the springboard and platform events. Four years later in Melbourne she achieved what is known as a “double-double” in Olympic diving, winning gold in both events again. McCormick is still the only woman in the history of diving, and only one of two divers ever, to achieve an Olympic double-double. (source)
The 1960 Olympics were the first to be telecast in America. It was there that Wilma Rudolph became the first U.S. woman to win the Olympic sprint double and the first African American woman to win 3 gold medals.. As the 17th child in a family of 18, she contracted polio as an infant and was unable to walk properly until she was 11. Rudolph was known to the Europeans as “The Black Gazelle”, both for her speed and her beauty. She formed her own company, the Wilma Rudolph Foundation, that worked with underprivileged children and sponsors athletic competition for children in Indianapolis. (source)