Evelyne Ruth Hall: Up from Poverty to Olympic Glory: Essay by Robert Pruter

 

To illustrate concept in textEvelyne Hall represents the great achievement of Chicago’s parks, churches, and athletic clubs that helped lift her out of a life of desperate poverty, debilitating illness, and ill education to become healthy, educated, and one of America’s outstanding female athletes and an Olympic star.

 

Evelyne Ruth Hull was one of the world’s top hurdlers during the 1930s, taking second in the 1932 Olympics in the 80-meters hurdles. Her upbringing was of years of illness and dire poverty, her mother so poor she had to place Evelyne into an orphanage for a few years. She discovered opportunity in 1920s Chicago in its parks, settlement houses, and clubs to become a track star. Hall was the AAU National outdoor 80 yard hurdles in 1930 and won the AAU indoor 50-yard/50-meter hurdles in 1931, 1933 and 1935. She was a member of three national championship relay teams and in 1932 her Illinois Women’s Athletic Club tied the world record for the 440-yard relay.

The basic biographical details of Evelyne Hall remain unclear and sketchy in her early life. She was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on September 10 1909. Her birth name has been reported as Evelyne Ruth Davidson, but we do not know the names of her parents. She has told an interviewer that her mother was only 16 and her father was 19 when she was born, and that afterwards her mother and father were divorced. Her mother then took Evelyne to Chicago. When the divorce occurred and the move to Chicago occurred we do not know. In any case she grew up in Chicago. Her mother may have resumed her birth name, because when Evelyne was married to Lester Hall and had a daughter in 1940, she gave her name as Evelyne Hagberg. Whatever was her family name in her youth, Davidson or Hagberg, it is apparent she was of Scandinavian heritage.1

Evelyne’s upbringing in Chicago alone with her mother was apparently exceedingly difficult and probably impoverished. She was a premature baby in a highly difficult birth, where both mother and baby were close to dying. She said, “I was thin and underdeveloped most of my early life. They thought I would die before I was ten years old. I had double pneumonia and scarlet fever. Then when I was about 11 or 12 I developed scoliosis. I should have been in a body cast for about a year or so.” But she explained there was no money to go to a clinic and so she had to live with double scoliosis.2

The turnabout for Evelyne’s health and full physical development occurred when her mother gave her up and placed her in an orphanage. Parents in extreme poverty back then would give up children to orphanages. Hall never explained why her mother put her in the orphanage, but it  seems evident that besides her illnesses, her being “underdeveloped” probably was due to malnourishment as well. Hall reported that the few years she was in an orphanage “kind of helped me grow a little stronger.” She had no major illnesses after the age of 12, and rejoined her mother after a few years after she got remarried. Her mother apparently married a man named Butler, because when Evelyne started competing in track, it was under the name of Evelyne Butler.3

Hall reported that she was heavily involved in athletic contests in her youth, attending many picnics where they had kids games and races. Her first competing with a club was at the Jewish People’s Institute (JPI) in the Lawndale community on Chicago’s West Side, where she apparently lived during the 1920s. She reported that the she loved running relays on the track that circled above the gym, and climbing the ropes hung from the ceiling and bars on the walls. In 1926, at the age of 17, Butler competed in her formal track meet, competing for Fiske Playground from the city’s South Side at the Chicago Daily News’ Women’s Olympics track meet. She took third in the 65-meters hurdles, in the intermediate class (high school age). Hall proudly remembers getting her first medal in the race. She probably was not in high school at the time, she reporting that she did not have much schooling growing up.4

Hall reported she ran her next race in the summer of 1927, the same year she married Lester Hall, the couple settling in the Chicago Lawn neighborhood on the city’s southwest side. That race was a huge meet of the Church Athletic Association of Chicago, involving mainstream dominations, mainly Congregational, Presbyterian, Methodist, and Lutheran. Competing as Evelyne Butler for Chicago Lawn Presbyterian Church she placed in three events—fourth in high jump and broad jump, and second in 75-yard dash.5

Near the end of 1927, Hall was working at an correspondence school, and a work colleague, Nellie Todd, a world class track and field athlete, told her about the Illinois Women’s Athletic Club (IWAC), which had opened in October 1927. Hall went to the club in March, 1928, and the instructor there asked her to jump a hurdle. The instructor was so pleased with her effort that she entered Hall into the Bankers indoor meet a couple of weeks later. There she competed in the 50-yard hurdles against the world record holder Helen Filkey, and in that race proved herself a strong new talent. Not only most credibly taking second, but also beating out her more experienced work colleague, Nellie Todd, who took third. Curiously Evelyne competed with the last name of Butler. Hall said she wore in the race a second-hand uniform and her first ever track shoes.6

The following year, 1929, Hall proved herself on the national stage at Soldier Field, Chicago, at the AAU outdoor nationals. She took second in the 80-meter hurdles to her IWAC teammate, Helen Filkey Warren, who set a new world record of 12 3/5 seconds, breaking a 1927 record by a German athlete. Another IWAC runner, Hall’s friend Nellie Todd, took third place. But Hall had real difficulty in the race, in which she had to deal for the first time in a metric set up. A hurdler form is to use a certain number of steps between hurdles and leap over the hurdles with the same foot on each hurdle, and Hall used her right, But with the metric set up, Hall was forced to switch her leaping leg at each hurdle. Terrible form that would not sustain her in the event. For the next year or two she struggled on metric hurdle races.7

Hall’s husband, Les, who was a pole vaulter and broad jumper, did some of the coaching work with Hall, but his job precluded attending the practices the IWAC girls held at Lake Shore Park, which was a short walk from the IWAC clubhouse with its small gym. Some track coaches from DePaul University would often coach the team at Lake Shore Park, and Hall mentioned a 1924 Olympic hurdler, F. Morgan Taylor, who would come to the park and assist her in her hurdling training.8

At the end of June, 1930, the Chicago American sponsored its third annual massive Central AAU outdoor championship for women, drawing a field of some 1,300 competitors. The meet drew 10,000 spectators at Ogden Park on the South Side. Of the many IWAC highlights of the meet, Hall was part of a big 80-yard hurdles highlights, when the IWAC won all the medal places–Helen Filkey, Evelyne Hall, and Nellie Todd, in that order. At the 1930 National AAU outdoor meet held on July 4 at Southern Methodist University, in Dallas, Hall won her first national championship, as the surprise winner in the 80 hurdles, beating the huge favorite Helen Filkey, who has stumbled twice.9

In 1930, Evelyne and Lester Hall were living in a large apartment building at 62nd and Spaulding in the community of Chicago Lawn. Evelyne was listed as unemployed and Lester was employed by the telephone company as a telephone installer. Four weeks later after the census taker knocked on the door of their small apartment, Evelyne gave birth to their first child, a daughter named Lynne Lee Hall.10

At the National AAU indoor meet in Newark, New Jersey, in mid-March, 1931, Evelyne Hall, the lone Chicagoan competitor showing the flag for the IWAC, set a new national indoor mark in the 50-yard dash. The IWAC did not support sending its teams to national meets that were not located in the Midwest, so for any outdoor and indoor meet held on the East Coast the IWAC had no presence. Hall took the initiative in the winter of 1931 to provide an IWAC presence in the AAU National indoor. “I was about the first girl that traveled east to compete in these meets. My husband and I had to scrape and scrape money to get gas for our little old car. We traveled through blizzards and up and down the mountains to get to New Jersey. I was elated because I set a new record in the 50-meter hurdles.”11

To illustrate concept in text

Evelyne Hall (center) with eight Chicago track and field athletes in 1931 ready to win another national championship.

At the end of March, 1931, at the Central AAU indoor track meet for men, which had two exhibition events for women, gave both Evelyne and Lester Hall to compete in the same meet. Evelyne took third in the 50-yard dash, behind Betty Robinson (who set a new world’s record) and Ethel Harrington (all three IWAC members). Lester took first in one of his specialties, the standing broad jump.12

In 1931, Hall was competing for the most powerful female track and field team in the country, the IWAC that included every great track and field athlete in Chicago except for Nan Gindele. The meet attracted more than 1,000 competitors, and some 10,000 spectators. The IWAC competitors won ten of eleven events; unattached Nan Gindele won the remaining event, baseball throw. Helen Filkey as usual beat Hall in the 80-meter hurdles. At the National AAU outdoor meet in Jersey City, New Jersey, Hall performed below her expectations in trying to defend her 80-meter hurdles title taking third in the event, losing to Babe Didrikson of Texas and Nellie Sharka of New Jersey in that order. Her teammate Filkey did not even medal. Hall did not go home without gold. As part of the winning IWAC 440 yard relay team, she helped her team win the AAU National team championship for the third consecutive year.13

Hall took third in the National outdoor because her form still depended on alternating her lead leg over the hurdles, and she clipped one of the hurdles that slowed her up. She and her husband knew they had to correct her form, and after extensive work found a way to have the same number of steps between hurdles and to always lead with the same leg. The dedicated work on the problem would pay dividends in the 1932 Olympic year.14

The 1932 season began with Hall now the top hurdler for the IWAC. The previous year, the AAU forced Filkey to retire, citing her as a professional for her job of selling athletic trophies. Hall opened the season with a bunch of wins and record-setting. At the Bankers’ meet in mid-March of 1932, Hall set a new American record in the rarely raced 30-yard hurdles of 7 4/10 seconds. At the end of the month, at the Illinois Athletic Club annual indoor meet for men, Hall won an exhibition 50-yard hurdles race for women. IWAC women ran 1, 2, and 3. At the Central AAU outdoor meet in June of 1932, Hall set a meet record in the 80-metter hurdles of 12.2 seconds. She was quickly peaking for the Olympic Games in LA.15

The AAU National outdoor meet and Olympic Trials at Northwestern University in mid-July 1932 should have been great experience for Hall, having won a silver medal in the 80-meter hurdles and getting a gold on the winning IWAC 400-meter relay. Instead it was tinged with a bit of disappointment, stemming from the breaking of competition rules by AAU officials that allowed Babe Didrikson to compete in nine events, so that she won five gold and one silver. AAU rules stipulated that in any one meet, women athletes can compete in only three events maximum. Didrikson success in the events made her the “team” championship, depriving the IWAC of a national title.16

Hall also thought that officials favored Didrikson in awarding first place to her in the 80-meter hurdles. Both racers finished in a virtual tie. Hall reported: “The clerk asked the two judges that were judging first place. Who was first?’ They both said ‘Hall.’ Then he asked the second place judges, “Who was second?’ And they both said, ‘Hall.’ So he queried, ‘Where was the Babe?’ And then he said, ‘Well she must have been first,’ And that is how the Olympics started for me.”  That is what Hall recalled, and if true she was right to be bitter about the result.17

In Los Angeles, Hall found the Olympic experience one of the highlights of her life bringing her in contact with all kinds of people from foreign countries, and she made the most of her experience. She was honored to be selected as the friendliest girl in the village. When it came to her contest in the 80-meters hurdles, she took second again to the Babe, and again she felt that she was deprived of gold that belonged to her. She related the following in an interview from 1987 made by the LA84 Foundation:18

Babe and I went over the last hurdle together and when we crossed the line my neck was cut by a strong piece of yarn—at that time they used a finish yarn. It cut my neck from the side all the way around to the other side. As I walked back, the officials were conferring among themselves about the placings of the contestants. When I went back and walked by the tunnel where all the athletes from all the foreign countries sat, they were all cheering and clapping and saying, “You won, you won, you won.” That really was my feeling because I could feel this strong cut on my neck. Of course it was bleeding, so I really cut it. But it took a long time before the officials finally decided the placings of the girls. The officials were on the outside and I was on the inside and Babe was right next to me. So it was hard to see me, because of the Babe.  After a while they came back and announced that Didrikson was first and I was second and that the time for both of us was 11.7 seconds, which was a new world’s record. And incidentally, the national record stood for 17 years.19

This report by Hall on her Olympic Games experience is even more compelling than her Olympic Trials report, which makes how she handled herself in the most sporting way afterwards that much more admirable despite the huge disappointment.

After the 1932 Olympics, Hall as did many disadvantaged kids in Chicago who became involved in athletics through the park districts, churches, and clubs found the experience help advance them in socially, educationally, and economically. Hall found the her Olympic Games experience particularly helped her in life. Said she, “The Olympics really changed my whole life. It opened up a whole new world for me because I became aware of my [lack of] education. I went back to Chicago and I was offered one of the first, if not the first athletic scholarships for women.” She was able to attend the American College of Physical Education, an institution that many of Chicago female athletes attended so as they could become recreation and sports instructors.20

To illustrate comcept in text

Evelyne Hall, 1933

Back in Chicago from the Olympics, Hall continued to compete in hurdles competition for the next four years. In February, 1933 at the National AAU indoor meet at Madison Square Garden, Hall won the 50-meter hurdles. The Central AAU outdoor meet in June 1933 found Hall competing for the IWAC in top form, where she set a meet record of 12.1 seconds in the 80-meters hurdles. At the end of the month, in Soldier Field, Hall failed to place in the top four in her 80-meters specialty, but still took home gold as he leadoff runner in the IWAC winning 400-meter relay.21

Hall’s track work in 1934 was not nearly as good as in 1933. At the National AAU indoor meet at New York in April 1934, Hall failed to defend her 50-meters hurdles title, taking second to a Canadian woman. Her second place points helped her Chicago Park District team (an ad hoc combination of Lincoln Park and South Parks districts) team win the AAU National indoor championship. In early August, Hall continued with her disappointing year, taking third at the Central AAU outdoor meet in the 80-yard hurdles racing for the winning Lincoln Park District team. No AAU outdoor nationals were held in 1934, so Hall had no opportunity to garner additional medals.22

In 1935, Hall did not participate in much significant competition, but her year began well, when Hall and her Chicago Park District competed in St. Louis to win the National AAU Indoor Meet. Hall contributed with her win in the 50-yard hurdles, the event in which the Chicago Park District won three out of the top four places. Hall may have been on the second place Chicago Park District 400-meter relay team. The Chicago Park District did not send a team to the AAU nationals in Brooklyn, and thus Hall was not there to earn medals.23

In Hall’s first big meet of 1936, the National AAU indoor meet at St. Louis in mid-February she took second to Tidye Pickett in the 50-meter hurdles, a setback to her aim to make the 1936 Olympics. The Central AAU indoor meet followed in late March in the 132nd Infantry armory, and Hall beat her Chicago Park District colleague, Tidye Pickett, in the 60 meter low hurdles. She also took third in the standing broad jump. In mid-June, at the Central AAU outdoor meet, Hall again beat her toughest rival, Tidye Pickett, to win the 80-yard hurdles. She along with Pickett were then able to go to the AAU National outdoor and Olympic qualifying meet in early July.24

Hall placed fourth in the 80-meter hurdles at the 1936 U.S. Olympic Trials and did not qualify, her Chicago colleague, Tidye Pickett, took second and went to the Olympic Games in Berlin. Hall returned to Chicago and focused her career as recreation director and track and field coach with the Chicago Park District. She was coaching track and field for all ages, and also served as the woman’s track and field chair on the Central AAU. In 1938, she was the coach for the Dvorak Park team, which encompassed all the top female track stars in Chicago, to the Central AAU outdoor championship. In the early 1940s she sponsored an age group team, called Chicago Hurricanes, that competed in track meets across the United States and Canada.25

In 1947, Hall and her husband moved to Glendale, California, to serve as the city’s first recreation supervisor, There she developed programs for men, women, and children. She initiated a variety of programs, forming baton and dance classes, swimming and diving championships, and water classes for handicapped children, well an age group track and field program. She also served as the track and field chair for the Pacific Coast AAU. During 1948 through 1950 she ran a women’s track and field AAU team in Glendale, sponsored by the Glendale Lions Club, The team, competing under the name Southern California Lions Club, took second in the AAU National outdoor meet in 1949.26

Hall beginning in 1949 and for several years afterwards served as the National AAU chair and U.S. Olympic chair for women’s track and Field. In 1951 Hall served as the coach/manager of the women’s team representing the United States at the first Pan American Games held in Argentina. After her son was born in 1951, Hall gave up her position of recreation director in Glendale, but continued to work with handicapped children. Hall in 1965 married again, Bradford C. Adams, an oil geologist.27

In 1983, Hall Adams was appointed a member of the 1984 Olympic Spirit Team, and for two years was giving talks at service clubs, schools, and universities about the history and the future of the Games. In 1984, she was presented with the first Freedom Award that was given by the Special Olympics for her pioneering and continuing work in the Special Olympics program.

In 1988, Hall was elected to the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame. For the last twelve years of her life Evelyne Hall Adams lived in Oceanside, California, where she died at the age of 83 in 1993.28

Notes

1. Evelyne Hall Adams, LA84 Foundation [George A Hodak interviewer], “An Olympian’s Oral History: Evelyne Adams, 1932, Olympic Games, track & field]. Los Angeles, CA: LA84 Foundation, 1987; “Illinois, Cook County, Birth Certificates, 1871-1040 database,” “Lynne Lee Hall, 13 May 1940;” Oak Park, Cook, Illinois, United States, reference/certificate 813, Cook County Clerk, Cook County Courthouse, Chicago, IL”

2.  An Olympian’s Oral History.”

3. Virginia Farrar, “Girls’ Olympic Goes to Cornell Square,” Chicago Daily News, 27 September 1926;’ “An Olympian’s Oral History.”

4. Ibid.

5.“Warren Avenue Church Wins Meet,” Chicago Tribune, 21 August 1927; “An              Olympian’s Oral History.”

6.  Walter Eckersall, “Helen Filkey Sets World Hurdle Mark,” Chicago Tribune, 31 March 1928; “An Olympian’s Oral History.”

7.  Tricard, pp. 152-53; “An Olympian’s Oral History.

8. “An Olympian’s Oral History.”

9. Leo Fischer, “Girls Set 3 World’s Records,” Chicago American, 28 June 1930; Leo Fischer, “9 Girl Track Stars Earn Trip to Dallas;” Chicago American, 30 June 1930; Miss Robinson and Miss Filkey Break Two World Track Marks,” New York Times, 29 June 1930; Eric L. Cowe, Early Women’s Athletics: Statistics and History, Volume Two, Bingley, England: [privately printed], 2005, p. 99.

10. Fifteenth Census of the United States, 1930, Population Schedule, Bureau of the Census, Illinois, Cook County, Chicago, Ward 15, Enumeration District 16-583, Sheet 12B (Washington, DC: National Records and Census Administration, 2002); “Lynne Lee Hall, 13 May 1940;” Oak Park, Cook, Illinois, United States.”

11.  “I.W.A.C. Runner Sets Record in National Meet,” Chicago Tribune, 15 March 1931;   Louise Mead Tricard, American Women’s Track and Field: A History 1895 through 1980 (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1985), pp.173-74; “An Olympian’s Oral History;” “Betty Robinson Breaks Record in 60 Yard Dash,” Chicago Tribune, 28 March 1931.60 Yard

  1. “Betty Robinson Breaks Record in Yard Dash,” Chicago Tribune, 28 March 1931.

13,   Leo Fischer, “American to Give Girls Track Hints,” Chicago American, 24 June 1931; Leo Fischer, “Seven New Records Hung Up in Women’s Track Meet,” Chicago American, 20 July 1931; Tricard, pp. 140 and 174; Leo Fischer, “American to Send;” “I.W.A.C. Wins Team Title in National Meet,” Chicago Tribune, 26 July 1931. Tricard, pp.171-73.

14. “An Olympian’s Oral History.”]

15.  Betty Eckersall, “Kansas Runner Takes Bankers’ Mile by 10 Yards,” Chicago Tribune, 19 March 1932; Betty Eckersall. “Illinois Athletic Club Wins Central A.A.U. Games,” Chicago Tribune 31 March 1932; Betty Eckersall, “Six Marks Fall in Central A.A.U. Meet for Girls,” Chicago Tribune, 19 June 1932.

16.  Tricard, pp.183-85; “An Olympian’s Oral History.”

17. Ibid.

18.  Tricard, pp.177-79; 201-05; “An Olympian’s Oral History.”

  1. Ibid.

20.  “An  Olympian’s Oral History.”

21.  “I.W.A.C. Team Wins A.A.U. Track Meet,” Chicago Tribune, 18 June 1933, “I.W.A.C. Takes Women’s Title With 42 Points,” Chicago Tribune, 1 July 1933, Tricard, pp. 212-14.

22.  “Stella Walsh Breaks World Sprint Record,” Chicago Tribune, 15 April 1934; “Lincoln Park Girls Win Two Titles,” Chicago Tribune, 5 August 1934.

23.  Tricard, pp. 219-22.

24.  “Helen Stephens Sets Two Marks in A.A.U. Meet,” Chicago Tribune, 13 February 1936; “Five Women’s A.A.U. Marks Fall in Meet,” Chicago Tribune, 14 June 1936; Tricard, psp.228-29; USA Track & Field, [http://www.usatf.org/HallOfFame/TF/showBio.asp?HOFIDs=65], accessed 23 July 2019.

25.  “200 to Compete Today in A.A.U. Women’s Meet,” Chicago Tribune, 13 August 1938; “All Round Girl,” Chicago Tribune, 1 December 1946; Tricard, pp. 228-29; “An Olympian’s Oral History.”

26.  Tricard, pp. 298, 309, 313; “An Olympian’s Oral History.”

27.  Tricard, p. 205; “An Olympian’s Oral History.”

28.  “An Olympian’s Oral History:” “Evelyne Hall (Adams),” USA Track & Field, [http://www.usatf.org/HallOfFame/TF/showBio.asp?HOFIDs=65], accessed 23 July 2019.

 

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1 Response to Evelyne Ruth Hall: Up from Poverty to Olympic Glory: Essay by Robert Pruter

  1. Pingback: Tidye Pickett: African American Olympic Track and Field Pioneer; Essay by Robert Pruter | The World of Early Amateur & Youth Sports in Chicago

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