America’s “First Lady of Golf,” Glenna Collett Vare, dominated the field of women’s golf in the 1920s, winning six U.S. Amateur Championships, two Canadian Ladies Opens, and the French Ladies Open. She continued to play well into her 80s and was inducted into both the World Golf Hall of Fame in 1975 and the International Women’s Sports Hall of Fame.
Glenna Collett was born in New Haven, Conn., and raised in Providence, R.I. The Colletts were a family of sports lovers and Glenna had ample opportunity to show her athletic talents early in life. Whether in the pool as a swimmer and diver, on the tennis court, or on the baseball field with her brother and neighbors, she could certainly hold her own. In 1917, when she was just 14 years old, she asked her father if she could try her hand at golf. Her parents had been hoping their daughter would take to a sport more feminine than baseball, and when she drove the ball more than 100 yards on her first attempt, it became clear that she belonged on the green.
Just two short years after she picked up her first club, she was winning titles. She won her first-round match in the U.S. Women’s Amateur and Golf Championship in 1919 and by 1921 posted the Championship’s lowest qualifying score. She went on to dominate the sport over the course of the decade, winning title after title, both in the U.S. and abroad. She attributed much of her success to the persistence of her coach, Alex Smith, a golf professional in his own right. She was also highly superstitious and had particular hats she would wear in specific tournament situations. However, it was clearly her capacity to drive the ball long distances that was the true key to her continued success.
In 1931, Glenna Collett married Edwin Vare and began a family, producing two children. Though she took up more traditional activities like needlepoint, Vare continued to make her way to the golf course when time permitted. In 1987, at the age of 83, she played her 62nd Point Judith Invitational.
Glenna Collett Vare died in 1989 after a battle with lymphoma.
During This Time
1946 - 1965: Women’s Activism in Conservative Times
The Cold War in the 1950s between the Soviet Union and the United States produced fear of domestic subversion. The McCarthy Era purged suspected Communists from government, the entertainment industry, and universities, and labeled gays and lesbians as un-American security risks. General anxiety contributed to a popular conception of the family as a source of social stability, and reinforced traditional notions of women’s place at home. In 1963, Betty Friedan called this promise of fulfillment through the domestic arts the “feminine mystique,” and advocated instead that women seek personal careers.
For two decades, a burgeoning economy and a growing consumer culture had expanded the availability of jobs for women. Notable was the increase in the workforce of married women, especially middle-class white women and educated women, though they were viewed in the media as working less for a career than to assist their families with needed income or desirable amenities for the home.
Some working-class women in labor unions challenged traditional cultural norms, such as the United Electric, Radio and Machine Workers who achieved non-discrimination clauses in local contracts. Middle-class women moderated their interest in women’s issues, promoting instead advancement through the League of Women Voters, YWCA, and the American Association of University Women. More radical women in Women Strike for Peace demonstrated against the nuclear arms race and were summoned to the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1962. Many activists would join the Civil Rights Movement.
The movement against segregation following World War II dates from the 1954 Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, which ruled that segregated schools are inherently unequal and thus a violation of the 14th amendment. African-Americans were given new hope, and in 1955 Rosa Parks, a black seamstress who refused to give up her seat to a white man on a bus in Montgomery, Alabama, triggered a bus boycott of critical importance. Black women and white women took part in boycotts, sit-ins, demonstrations, and marches. A culminating achievement in 1965 was the Voting Rights Act pushed through by President Johnson.
Mexican-Americans in the southwest also fought to improve their life and work conditions. In 1962, Dolores Huerta, co-founder with Cesar Chavez of the United Farm Workers, played a leading role in organizing a national boycott of grapes that forced growers to sign a contract with the union.
Other ethnic groups were soon to come to America, enriching its diversity. The Immigrant and Nationality Act of 1965 established an immigration system based on family preference. Half of the new immigrants came from Mexico and Central and South America, while a quarter were from Asia. Two-thirds of the immigrants were women and children. While poverty and acculturation were issues, for many the time-honored American process of upward social mobility had begun.
Special thanks to Barbara E. Lacey, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus of History, St. Joseph's College (Hartford, CT) for preparing these historical summaries.