Oct 072009
 
Canadian woman athlete of the half-century

Canadian woman athlete of the half-century

The female hockey player of the decade in the 1920s was Toronto’s all-round athlete Bobby (Fanny) Rosenfeld, a member of the 1928 Canadian Olympic track-and-field team and a gold medal winner.  Rosenfeld, whose first love was hockey, excelled at all sports except swimming.  She joined Ethel Smith, Jane Bell and Myrtle Cook and swept to Olympic gold in the 400-metre relay in world-record time.

Cook and Rosenfeld were champions in a number of sports and later both became respected sports journalists.  When Canadian women began making inroads athletically in the 1920s, newspapers in major centers began hiring ex-athletes as reporters.  As a result, there was more coverage of women’s events in the 20s and 30s than there was in the four decades that followed.  Even so, 87% of sports stories of the era were about male athletes and their events.  In Canada’s Sporting Heroes, S. F. Wise and Douglas Fischer called it “a striking anomaly, particularly in view of the fact that, ever since the dramatic display of women’s track team at the Amsterdam Olympics in 1928, Canadian women have always done better than men in international competition.”

By 1929 Bobby Rosenfeld was crippled with arthritis and spent eight months in bed and another year on crutches.  Miraculously, she was able to come back two years later to become the leading slugger in her women’s softball league and the following winter.  She was top hockey player in Ontario.  When arthritis flared up the second time in 1933 she retired from competitive sports and joined the Toronto Globe and Mail.  Fellow columnist Robert Fulford once wrote of her:

“Bobby was the first lesbian I knew as such, and every day her moment of greatest happiness — happiness I could see her almost physically trying to hide, for reasons took me years to understand — coincided with her companion’s arrival at her office to pick her up after work.  One day this lady mentioned that she and Bobby were looking for new apartment and needed two bedrooms — one for Bobby’s trophies.”

In 1949 Bobby Rosenfeld was named Canadian woman athlete of the half-century.   In 1996, to commemorate the Centennial Olympic Games, the Canadian Postal Service issued a set of stamps featuring five of the country’s greatest gold medalists. The collectors’ set included Rosenfeld.

Want more stories about women hockey players?  Check out my book Proud Past, Bright Future- 100 Years of Canadian Women’s Hockey.

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