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First International Track Meet for Women: Associated People and Places

First International Track Meet for Women, August 20, 1922, in Paris, France.

Associated People and Places

Mrs. Merrill established Oaksmere in 1906, at New Rochelle, NY and it moved to Orienta Point, Mamaroneck, New York in 1914. In a 1920-1921 school catalog, the spirit of Oaksmere is given as; "The inspiration of Mrs. Merrill's School for Girls is a concept of the position of the modern woman in her home, in the social organization, in business life, and of the education and training the girl should receive to give her distinction in these activities." It was located on fifty acres that had a half mile of water frontage. The gymnasium contained a swimming pool, an indoor basketball court, an apparatus room, and rooms for indoor golf practice. Outdoors there was a seven-hole golf course, tennis courts, ice-skating rink, basketball court, and field for hockey, baseball, and track. There was also a squash court in one of the residence halls. The students also used the water frontage for swimming, canoeing, and rowing. The 1922-23 American Private Schools describes the school as follows: “For some years it has maintained the reputation of being the highest priced school and is patronized by those who spend freely." Board and tuition for 1929-1921 school year was $2,700. The same entry describes Mrs. Merrill as “a woman of personal charm and an unusually capable business executive." In 1912, she opened a branch campus in Paris, France called Oaksmere Abroad. During World War I, Mrs. Merrill purchased and sent an ambulance to France.

Oaksmere students included Clara Boal, grandniece of "Buffalo" Bill Cody; and actresses Katharine Cornell and Natalie Schafer. Mrs. Merrill brought talented teachers to Oaksmere including musician Robert Russell Bennett and David Belasco was director of the drama department. Oaksmere closed its doors in 1926.

Winifred Edgerton Merrill was born in Ripon, Wisconsin on September 24, 1862. She earned a B.A. at Wellesley College in 1886, and became the first woman to earn a degree from Columbia University when she completed her Ph.D. cum laude in 1886. She studied higher mathematics and astronomy at Columbia. Her degree application was initially refused. President Barnard suggested she be interviewed by each Trustee and was accepted on the next vote. Mrs. Merrill served, for a short time, on the committee that called for the establishment of Barnard College.

Winifred Edgerton married Dr. Frederick Merrill in 1887. Dr. Frederick Merrill served as New York State Geologist and as the director of the New York State Museum. The couple were the parents of four children: Louise, Hamilton, Winifred, and Edgerton. Dr. Frederick Merrill died in 1916.

Mrs. Merrill established Oaksmere in 1906, in New Rochelle, New York and it moved to Mamaroneck, NY in 1914. The 1922-23 American Private Schools describes the school as follows: “For some years it has maintained the reputation of being the highest priced school and is patronized by those who spend freely." Tuition for the same year was $2,000 and the enrollment was 75. The same entry describes Mrs. Merrill as “a woman of personal charm and an unusually capable business executive." In 1912, she opened a branch campus in Paris, France called Oaksmere Abroad. During World War I, Mrs. Merrill purchased and sent an ambulance to France. Mrs. Merrill paid for the team's accommodations in Paris. The Hotel Montreal at 37 Rue d'Hauteville was the team's headquarters in Paris.

Oaksmere students included Clara Boal, grandniece of "Buffalo" Bill Cody; and actresses Katharine Cornell and Natalie Schafer. Mrs. Merrill brought talented teachers to Oaksmere.

Robert Russell Bennett taught music and worked with Mrs. Merrill to develop her theory that people's signatures translated through a mathematical formula onto a musical scale could reveal the person's character. The results were called Musical Autograms. Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Merrill, along with David Belasco wrote a musical piece, A Belasco Sonata for the Pianoand several of Mr. Bennett's works were influenced by his time at Oaksmere. Pieces include Water-Mirror and a march, The Oaksmere Spirit. While at Oaksmere, Robert Russell Bennett met one of Mrs. Merrill's daughters, Louise and they were married in December 1919. Oaksmere closed its doors in 1926.

Columbia University honored Mrs. Merrill in 1933, on the fiftieth anniversary of her graduation from Wellesley with a portrait by H. E. Ogden Campbell. Below the portrait of Mrs. Merrill bears the inscription, "She Opened The Door." It was hung in Philosophy Hall.

Mrs. Merrill moved to New York City, residing in and working as librarian at The Barbizon Hotel for Women. She moved in with her son, Hamilton, of Fairfield, Connecticut and died on 6 September 1951, at 88 years of age.

Alice Milliat worked to promote women's athletics both in her native France and in the world. She was a member of Femina Sport, a sports club founded in 1911. Six years later when a number of sports clubs formed the Federation des Societes Feminines Sportives de France (FSFS), Alice was named treasurer. In two years, she was president of the organization. Mme.MIlliat pushed the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to include women's track and field events. These events were finally included in a limited way in the 1928 Amsterdam Games. Mme. Milliat, spurred by the IOC's rejection, formed the Federation Sportive Feminine Internationale (FSFI) to organize international track and field meets for women. The first was held in Paris, at Pershing Stadium on August 20, 1922. Three more Meets were held in 1926, 1930, and 1934.

Dr. Harry Eaton Stewart was born October 6, 1887, in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1910, he graduated from Yale University with a M.D. and for the next six years practiced medicine in Washington, Connecticut. During the same time Dr. Stewart also worked as an instructor in physical education at the Wykeham Rise School for Girls in the same town. Dr. Stewart developed a deep interest in the medical aspects of physical activity.

In 1919, at the request of the surgeon general's office Dr. Stewart established the first school of physical therapy in the United States, the New Haven School of Physical Therapy. He served as president from its inception until his death in 1948. Its initial aim was to professionally train physical therapist for the U.S. Public Health Service, but began offering Associate in Science degrees in 1940. In that year the school became the Junior College of Physical Therapy. Dr. Stewart wrote numerous articles and three textbooks.

He was a member of the American Physical Education Association and founded the National Women's Track Athletic Association. In 1922, he was elected to the International Federation of Feminine Athletes (France) the sponsoring organization for the 1922 International Track Meet for Women. When the invitation was made to bring the first team of women from the United States to participate in a track and field meet, Dr. Stewart met the challenge. He faced financial hardships associated with bringing a team to compete internationally and very strong criticism from many members of the American Physical Education Association.

Today, a University of Connecticut scholarship in physical therapy bears his name. It was established by the New Haven College of Physical Therapy in his memory.

Dr. Harry Eaton Stewart died on January 6, 1948.

Suzanne Becker was a physical education teacher/coach at Leonia High School in Leonia, New Jersey in 1922. At the Oaksmere Meet in May 1922, she brought a talented group of students to compete including Elizabeth Stine and Maybelle Gilliland. Leonia High School won the trophy for accumulating the most points in the Oaksmere Meet. Suzanne agreed to Dr. Stewart's request that she be an assistant coach for the team competing in Paris.

In 1922, Suzanne was elected as a permanent member the Federation Sportive Feminine Internationale, the sponsoring body of the International Meet.

Suzanne Becker Young wrote in a letter to James Dawson, Jr., an Olympic consultant in 1976, that she heard some of the criticism directed at women competing in track and field which extended to Dr. Stewart and the team. She writes: “Upon our return to the States, I found a very considerable amount of criticism and opposition to competitive athletics for women. I attended a Woman's Physical Education Association Convention in Washington at which several speakers claimed that participants were subjected to hazards that were a potential danger to their future life. Needless to say I took vigorous exception." (letter in Columbia College Archives) 

Coach Joseph D'Angola served asassistant coach and his wife, Anita, served as chaperone for the team. He was Camille Sabie's coach at Newark Normal School. Mr. D'Angola coached at then Newark Normal School and Newark State College (now Kean University) from 1918 to 1956. He is a member of the Kean University Athletic Hall of Fame.

Lucy Fletcher was initially chosen as a member of the team but did not join. Daughter of George Warren and Eliza Anne Edwards Fletcher, Lucy was born in 1903, in Greensboro, Florida. Lucy was a star athlete at Greensboro High School playing basketball, running the 50-yard and 100-yard dashes, and throwing the javelin. When she was a high school student she competed in a state track meet in 1922, held at the Florida State College for Women (now Florida State University). At the meet, Lucy was outstanding in the standing broad jump with a distance of over 8 feet. Dr. Stewart wrote that the jump "is the best performance we had in recent years." According to family history Lucy's mother asked her not to go to Paris and she did not go against that wish. Lucy married Hugh Murry Brown in 1922, and they had five children.

Helen Krepps was initially chosen as a member of the team but did not join. Helen, from Columbus, Ohio, graduated with a B. A. degree from Ohio State University in 1923. She was active in athletics as a student, running track and playing basketball for three years. Helen won individual honors at the third annual track meet at Ohio State University in May 1922. There she equaled the collegiate record in the 100-yard hurdles.

Helen began working at East Tennessee Normal School (now East Tennessee State University) in 1924, as women's basketball coach. In 1930, the college replaced women's intercollegiate sports with an intramural program. Helen remained at ETSU until 1933. In 1930, Helen was voted by the students as the most popular faculty member. Helen married in 1932, and is listed as Helen Krepps Smith.

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