Annette Rogers: The Overlooked Chicago Olympian; Essay by Robert Pruter

Toa explain concept intextAnnette Rogers, a world class jumper and sprinter, won two gold medals in the Olympic Games, in 1932 and 1936, each time as a member of the winning United States 400-meter relay team, but has never achieved the renowned she warranted.

 

 

 

Annette Rogers, a sprinter and high jumper, was a gold medal Olympic medal winner in two Olympics, 1932 and 1936, yet her name is infrequently mentioned in the history of the track and field. She was one of the best track and field competitors to come out of Chicago between the wars, and her career exemplifies how the city’s park districts and private clubs produced world class female athletes.

Annette Rogers was the daughter of immigrants from Ireland, John and Mary Rogers, who entered the United States in 1909 and first settled in Chelsea, Massachusetts, the town where Annette was born on October 22, 1913. At the age of three, the family moved to the North Side of Chicago. Her father had the modest position of streetcar conductor.1

Rogers remembered as a youngster racing against friends, and beating most everyone, even the boys. As true of so many Chicago female athletes in the 1920s and 1930s, she was discovered by a playground instructor, and first coached at the playground. Rogers remember the time at age of 10, and that she began participating in racing and high jump contests at the Hayt Playground. The teacher at the playground, Margaret Leimer, saw her exceptional talent, and entered her in local competition, her first notice at the age of 14 when she took a third in the 50 yard dash in her age group at the Chicago Daily News Women’s Olympics meet in 1928.  The following year she competed for Henry Park.  Rogers needed first rate coaching to take her to the next level, and Leiner facilitated her membership in the Illinois Women’s Athletic Club (IWAC) in 1930. The IWAC was the premier club for women athletes in the city, and Rogers flourished with the top notch training and coaching she received at the club. Rogers usually trained at the nearby Lake Shore Park where she was coached by male DePaul physical education instructors, an arrangement made by the IWAC.2

Rogers undoubtedly joined the junior team, because in reports of IWAC track meets in 1930 there is no mention of her. She first appeared in the newspapers as an IWAC member in March of 1931, at a Central AAU indoor meet, where she took second to teammate Genevieve Valvoda. By summer she had advanced enough to compete in the National AAU outdoor tournament in Jersey City, New Jersey, on July 25. In one of her specialties, the 100 meters, if she ran, she did not place. In her other specialty, the high jump, her second place 4’ 11” was considerably lower than Jean Shiley’s 5’ 2”, an American record. But in the 440 yard relay, the IWAC proved to be the best in the country when veterans Evelyne Hall, Nellie Todd, and Ethel Harrington, along with newcomer Rogers won the race.3

Rogers graduated from Senn High in January 1932. She was listed in the Chicago Tribune as one of the “leaders of tomorrow” in being selected as an outstanding senior in the mid-year high school graduation class. She served as her class secretary, the girls’ sports editor for the school newspaper, and secretary of the school council. Her graduation allowed her to focus on training and meets towards competing in the Olympic Games at Los Angeles in July. At the Central AAU outdoor meet in the third week of June, Rogers won her two favorite events, 100 meters and high jump (the latter setting a Central AAU record of 5 feet 2 inches). Her IWAC teammates did considerably better, notably the throwers, setting American and world records.

The Olympic Trials for women were held in mid-July, also in Chicago, and Rogers qualified for the high jump, third as expected behind Jean Shiley and Babe Didrikson. As one of the favorites she also entered the 100 meters, but lost one of her shoes in the preliminaries and was eliminated. For the 400-meters relay, Rogers was also eligible for selection on the relay team, based on her 100-meter times during the year and making the team in the high jump.4

In Los Angeles, the women’s track coach, George Vreeland, evaluated the relay candidates in their practice runs, and chose Rogers for the final four; the other three were Mary Carew, Evelyn Furtsch, and Wilhelmina von Bremen. They nipped the highly rated Canadian team to win in a world record time. In the high jump, Rogers was just not competitive, taking sixth at 5 feet 2 inches, which was one of her best ever marks. The winning jump by her teammate Jean Shiley was 5 feet 5 ¼ inches.5

During 1933, Rogers’ track team sponsor, the IWAC, was dying, having suffered severe financial difficulties with the onset of the Great Depression. However, the IWAC trak team continued to rack up victories on the national stage during the year. At the AAU Nationals in New York, in February, Rogers helped her team take the national indoor title by winning both the 200 meter run and the high jump. The following month, at the Central AAU indoor meet, Rogers took firsts in the 40-meter dash (setting a new American record), the 200-meter dash, and the high jump.6

Rogers in July helped the IWAC win the National AAU outdoor championship at Soldier Field in Chicago, taking the 100 meters, and running on the winning IWAC 400-meter relay squad, plus a third in the high jump. This was the last competition of the IWAC track team, as the club had closed its doors by the summer.7

Rogers during 1934 was still a standout at the runs, but was not competitive in high jumping. In the National AAU indoor championships in New York, in April, she took a second in the 200 meters, behind Stella Walsh, who was tearing up the tracks then. In the high jump, she took a lowly fourth, and one of the jumpers who beat her was her teammate, Genevieve Valvoda, a rising star on the ad hoc “Chicago Park District” team. At Toronto’s Centennial track and field games in July, she competed on a Chicago team with the ad hoc name of “Highland Park Athletic Club,” and helped her team to the championship by winning the 100-meters. At the Central AAU outdoor meet in August, running for Lincoln Park, Rogers only placed in the running events, taking second to the fast rising Tidye Pickett in the 100-meter dash, and taking first in the 200-meter run, which she set a new meet record.8

To illustrate concept in text

Annette Rigers (far right) along with Doris Anderson, Mary Terwilliger, and Tidye Picket competed as the Chicago Park District 440 relay team that set a world record in Canada in 1935.

As Rogers competed during 1935, she was being talked about as a potential Olympian for the Berlin Olympic in 1936. In March the Chicago Park District team was split, one half competing in the National AAU indoor tournament, and one half going to Canada to compete. In Canada, Rogers competed in two meets, notably on the Chicago Park District great 440-yard relay squad, with teammates Tidye Pickett, Doris Anderson, and Mary Terwilliger. At Hamilton, they won the relay in world record setting time, and a week or so later, at the Toronto meet broke the record again. In the 60-yard dash at Hamilton, Rogers lost a close one to principal nemesis, Stella Walsh. However, in Toronto, Rogers turned the tables and beat Walsh in the 60 yard.9

To illustrate concept in text

Annette Rogers, 1935

The Central AAU outdoor meet in August found Rogers in fine form, winning both the 50 meters and the 100 meters, eliciting a comment from the Chicago Tribune, that Rogers was “the likely candidate for the 100 meter event on the 1936 Olympic team.” In the AAU National outdoor meet in September, no Chicago team sent competitors, so Rogers was not able to show her stuff in both AAU National meets in 1935.10

During 1936, Annette Rogers and her former teammate at the IWAC affiliated with a new club operating out of the old IWAC building, the Illinois Club for Catholic Women (ICCW). Under the banner of the ICCW Rogers continued regularly winning her events in meets, the last which insured her selection to the 1936 Olympic team. In the Olympics, Rogers in her individual events did not place, taking sixth in the high jump, and fifth in the 100 meters, both respectable results on the world-stage event. She could be most proud of her 100-meters, as she had to beat out competitors in early heats and semi-finals before competing in the finals. But she won her second gold medal as a member of the 400-meter relay team, which included besides her, the great runner Helen Stephens from Missouri, her fellow Chicagoan, Betty Robinson, and Harriet Bland from the St. Louis Athletic Club.10

To illustrate concept on text

The 400-meter United States team that beat Germany in the 1936 Olympic Games, with left to right: Annette Rogers, Helen Stephens, Harriet Bland, Betty Robinson.

After the Olympics, Rogers competed in at least one more meet in 1936, at the Canadian National Exhibition meet in Toronto in September, in a United States national 400 relay team. The team with Helen Stephens in the anchor leg easily beat the Canadians, along with Rogers, Betty Robinson, and Harriet Bland (the Olympic Games relay winners). In the fall, Rogers and Robinson were recognized by their Catholic women club with the Mayor Edward J. Kelly and American Olympics President Avery Brundage in attendance. The Illinois Club for Catholic Women evidently pulled out of their sponsorship of an AAU track team after the Olympics.11

Rogers was finishing her senior year at Northwestern, and did not appear to be competing in 1937 for any club. After graduation from Northwestern in 1937, Rogers obtained a position as physical educator at Lake View High School in Chicago, later teaching at Senn High and other schools in the city’s public school system.  In August, 1937, Helen Stephens approached Rogers and Robinson about the three turning professional. Both Rogers and Robinson, who appeared to have ended their track careers, initially took up the offer by Stephens, but then backed out.  They both decided they were done with track and field.12

In 1948, Rogers was married to Peter J. Kelly, a director of athletics at a local school, and the couple subsequently raised a daughter and two sons. Rogers continued to keep involved in track and field, serving for many years in the Central AAU as the chairperson in charge of women’s track and field. She retired as a physical education teacher in the Chicago high schools in 1965.. She attended the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, as a celebrity former Olympian. Rogers died in Niles, Illinois, at the age of 93 on November 8, 2006.13

Footnotes

1. Fourteenth Census of the United States 1920–Population, Bureau of the Census, Illinois, Cook County, Chicago, Ward 25, Enumeration District 1414; .Sheet 21-B (Washington DC: National Archives and Records Administration), 1992; Doris H. Pieroth, Their Day in the Sun: Women of the 1932 Olympics (Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 1996), pp. 23-24;

2. Anne Armstrong, “Cornell Square Wins Track Meet,” Chicago Daily News, 11 June 1928; Pieroth, p. 24; “Entries in Girls’ Track Meet,” Chicago American, 20 June 1929; Tony C. Yang, “Annette Rogers Kelly: 1913-2006,” Chicago Tribune, 11 November 2006.

3. “Betty Robinson Breaks Record in 60 Yard Dash,” Chicago Tribune, 28 March 1931, pp. 171-173.

4. “High Schools of North Side Name Leading Seniors,” Chicago Tribune, 24 January 1932; Betty Eckersall, “Six Marks Fall in Central A.A.U. Meet for Girls,” Chicago Tribune, 19 June 1932; Pieroth, pp. 41-43.

5. Pieroth, pp. 110-111.

6. “U.S. Track Honors to Chicago Women,” New York Times, 26 February 1933; “Annette Rogers Sets Dash Mark in A.A.U. Games,” Chicago Tribune, 26 March 1933.

7.  “I.W.A.C. Takes Women’s Title with 42 Points,” Chicago Tribune, 1 July 1933, Wilfred Smith, “Berlinger Wins Decathlon with 7,597.19 Total,” Chicago Tribune, 2 July 1933.

8. “Stella Walsh Breaks World Record Spring Record,” Chicago Tribune, 15 April 1934; “Chicago Girls Win Canadian Track Games,” Chicago Tribune, 3 July 1934; “Lincoln Park Girls Win Two Track Titles,’ Chicago Tribune, 5 August 1934.

9. “New Canadian Mile Record Set by Cunningham,” Chicago Tribune, 21 March 1955; “Tydie (sic) Pickett Stars as Locals Win Track Meets,” Chicago Defender (nat. ed.), 30 March 1935.

10.  “Girl Athletes Compete Today in A.A.U. Meet,” Chicago Tribune, 10 August 1935; “Betty Robinson Wins Dash in C.A.A.U. Meet,” Chicago Tribune, 11 August 1935; Louise Mead Tricard, American Women’s Track and Field, Jefferson, NC: McFarland, pp. 219-20.

11. Pieroth, pp. 134-135.

12. “Helen Stephens Breaks Women’s 100 Yard Mark,” Chicago Tribune, 6 September 1936; “Honor Chicago Girl Olympic Athletes Today,” Chicago Tribune, 18 October 1936; Pieroth, pp. 134-35; Yang, 2006; Cowe, p. 163.

13.  “Recently Wed,” Chicago Daily News, 12 September 1948; “Central AAU Names 1948 Chairmen of Various Committees,” Chicago Tribune, 4 December 1947;  Yang 2006; “Annette Rogers Kelley: 1913–Ancestry.com. U.S., Social Security Death Index, 1935-2014 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2011.

 

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4 Responses to Annette Rogers: The Overlooked Chicago Olympian; Essay by Robert Pruter

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