Celebrate National Golf Day with Women Golfer Illustrations

April 10 has been designated as National Golf Day, most likely since the first professional U.S. golf tournament was held on April 10, 1916.  To commemorate this day, Modern Graphic History Library looks at the way women golfer has been portrayed in magazine illustration and advertising.

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by Georges LePape, Vogue, July 20, 1929

Golf was popular in the 1800s in Britain, but took longer to become popular in the United States, largely due to the Civil War. Americans, at the time, were also more interested in horse racing and baseball.  The Northeast United States was the first region to show interest in golf as a serious sport. In 1888, a Scotsman named John Reid would set up the first five-hole American golf course in a cow field in Yonkers, New York.

From then on, golf was popular in the United States, but only as a sport for the rich elite.  Part of this was due to the expense of the equipment, particularly the golf balls.  Golf was refered to as a “gentleman’s” sport — but women were allowed to participate.  A year after creating the first golf course, John Reid and his wife particpated in the first mixed doubles golf tournament.

However while ladies may have been allowed to participate, according to magazine illustration, they were never taken seriously.  In this illustration by Charles Dana Gibson, the men, all dressed in suits and dress hats, are distracted by the Gibson Girl playing golf and advised to “keep their eye on the ball, not the player.”

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by Charles Dana Gibson, 1900, publication unknown

In 1916, professional golf (for men only) began, which made amateur golfing more popular.  During this time, the cost of equipment was more affordable, allowing the middle class to play as well. Between 1916 and 1920, it is estimated that there were 500,000 weekend golfers.

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by Coles Phillips, Saturday Evening Post, November 18, 1922

By the 1920s, magazine covers were featuring illustrations of women playing golf, but not always in a positive manner.  They were either confused by the game or completely distracted.

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by Coles Phillips, Life, October 14, 1920

Women were also portrayed as the inconvenient obstacle that prevented men from sneaking out from the house.

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by B. Cory Kilvert, Life, July 26, 1923

During the 1930s, a women’s amateur competition had been established, and women golfers were being illustrated in a more positive light.  This was particularly true in car advertisements. The auto industry had already discovered in the 1920s that women were influential in choosing the car for their families, and were already portraying women as smart and savvy.  Now, they were also being portrayed as golfers who took the sport (and their cars) seriously.

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McCalls’s, April 1930, artist unknown

The fashion industry was also marketing to women golfers.  This McCall’s pattern advertisement shows how to add French style to one’s golfing attire.

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But in story illustration, women were still being shown as less confident, needing help from the men with their golf game.

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by Harry Beckhoff, Collier’s, December 8, 1934

In 1950s advertising, women were still shown to be a distraction to the male players.  The implication in this Titleist advertisement was that women were less competent as the men, since the woman’s ball was the one in the water.

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by Harry Beckhoff, Saturday Evening Post, May 17, 1952

Modern Graphic History Library hopes you enjoy National Golf Day, and hopes you score a hole-in-one (or at least make par.)

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by Albert Hubbell, New Yorker, August 12, 1974

Credits:

The McCall’s advertisements are from Modern Graphic History Library’s Periodicals Collection.

All other images are from the Walt Reed Illustration Archive.

Information for this blog came from:

Golf in the 1920s.  Sports of the 1920s, n.d.

History of the game of golf. The People History.com, n.d.

About the author

Andrea Degener is the Visual Materials Processing Archivist in the department of Special Collections at Washington University Libraries.