Competitive women's golf had its start in Great Britain in the 1860s, and in 1894, American women staged their first tournament in Morristown, New Jersey. In 1896, the United States Golf Association began organizing women's amateur events, and by the 1920s, American women were gaining ground on their British rivals 3. Although America's top women golfers of the 1920s typically came from the upper classes, they helped popularize the sport among women of all classes.
The Americans are Coming
British women had nearly 30 years of competitive golf experience under their belts by the time Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Long Island, New York, became the first to admit women in 1891. However, by the 1920s, American women golfers, such as Alexa Stirling and Edith Cummings, were giving their British opponents serious competition in the Ladies British Amateur. Glenna Collett, the best American woman golfer of the 1920s, according to golf historian Herbert Warren Wind, won six U.S. Amateur titles and made it to the final round of the Ladies British Amateur in 1929 before losing to her long-time British nemesis, Joyce Wethered.
Several official USGA tournaments, including the Women's National, were available to women golfers in the 1920s. However, entry required USGA membership -- and a requirement of that was membership in a country club recognized by the USGA. For that reason, tournament play excluded minorities and most middle-class women. The "Big Four" top female golfers of the 1920s, which included Collett, Maureen Orcutt, Virginia Van Wie and Helen Hicks, were women from privileged backgrounds. Regardless of their social standing, women couldn't serve on the USGA's executive board.
F. Scott Fitzgerald's novel, "The Great Gatsby," gives readers a taste of 1920s society through its characters, including Jordan Baker. Baker was based on Edith Cummings, a friend of Fitzgerald's first love, Ginerva King, and one of the decade's top female golfers. A Chicago debutante and notorious party girl dubbed "The Fairway Flapper," Cummings nevertheless was a talented golfer. She beat Stirling to win the Women's Amateur in Providence, Rhode Island in 1923. In 1924, Cummings was the first female athlete to make the cover of "Time" magazine.
What to Wear
The accomplishments of women athletes, including golfers, in the 1920s had a direct impact on fashion for all women. The post-World War I image of the American woman took on a youthful, energetic look. As more women engaged in sports, it became fashionable to look like an active woman on and off the course. Cotton sports clothes became part of the modern woman's day wear wardrobe, while knickers and split skirts became acceptable apparel for women golfers.
- Women in Golf: The Players, The History and The Future of The Sport
- Berkley Golf Consulting: Timeline: Important Events in Women's Golf
- United States Golf Teachers Federation: The History of Women in Golf
- Notable American Women: A Biographical Dictionary, Volume 5; Edward T. James, Janet Wilson James and Paul S. Boyer, Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study
- The Chicago Daily News Almanac and Year Book for 1922: Volume 38
- As Seen in Vogue: A Century of American Fashion in Advertising
- Willard/iStock/Getty Images