When she was only an infant, her family immigrated to Canada just as the peasants were beginning to rise up against the Czar. The family would settle in Barrie, Ontario. At the time, Fannie had an older brother but the family would soon expand when her father Max and mother Sarah had three more children, all girls.
Bobbie would attend Central School and Barrie Collegiate Institute and soon made a name for herself locally through her excellent athletic ability. She would win her first race at the age of nine while attending a picnic and it was around this time she received the nickname Bobbie because of her bobbed hair.
In hockey, described as her first love, she was said to be able to hold her own against the boys on Barrie’s natural ice on the outdoor rinks. In the history of Barrie she is described as “slight of build, but wiry and very quick. She knew only one way to compete and that was all out. Always aggressive, she was not belligerent by nature and she enjoyed great popularity wherever she went.” It is said that once at Trinity Park, her hard shot caused the puck to shatter into several pieces.
At Barrie Collegiate, according to Rosenfeld herself, she deliberately failed two courses so she could attend Habord Collegiate Institute in Toronto, which had a better athletic program.
In 1923, when Bobbie was 19, the family moved to Toronto and she began working in a chocolate factory. For fun, she would join the Toronto Young Women’s Hebrew Association and began to play basketball. The year she joined, the team would win both the Toronto and Ontario championships. They would go on to nationals, losing to the iconic Edmonton Grads, who deserve an episode to themselves and will have one in the future.
Constance Hennessey, who was a member of the Toronto Ladies Athletic Club, would later state about Rosenfeld, “she did not look powerful but she was wiry and quick and above all she went after everything with full force.”
That same year, she would go to a picnic in Beaverton and was convinced to participate in the small track meet and enter the 100-yard dash. She would finish first in that race, not realizing that she had defeated the current Canadian champion, Rosa Grosse.
By the end of the year, she was competing at the track meet at the Canadian National Exhibition, along with three other amazing female athletes with Grosse, Grace Conacher and Myrtle Cook competing. The four would defeat the more experienced team from the United States in the relay.
She would share a friendly rivalry with Grosse, who took the 100-yard spring title in 1924 after losing it to Rosenfeld. Rosenfeld would get that title back in 1925 and set a world record at the same time.
By 1925, her legendary athletic abilities were becoming known to all of Canada. In a single day at the 1925 Ontario Ladies Track and Field Championships, she would finish first in discus, shot-put, the 220-yard dash, low hurdles and long jump, while taking second in both the 100-yard dash and the javelin throw. By this time, she held the national records for the 440-yard open relay, the standing board jump, the discus, shot put and javelin.
At the 1928 Olympic Games, she was one of the Matchless Six, a group of Canadian women who dominated the competitions. I did an episode on them last year that you should definitely check out. At those Olympics she would take a gold medal at the 4 x 100 metre relay, and a silver in the 100-yard dash. When Rosenfeld and the Matchless Six returned, they were greeted by a crowd of 200,000 people on a parade through Toronto. Rosenfeld had also scored more points for her country than any other athlete at the Games, male or female.
Not content to just compete at track and field, she continued to play basketball and her team would twice more go to the finals in that decade, while she also played softball, fastball and hockey. One of the most amazing stories of Bobbie comes from the Toronto Ladies Grass Court Tennis Championship. She had only just taken up the sport and would win the title at the event. On top of all of those sports, she also competed in lacrosse, golf and speed skating. One sports writer summed up her domination in sports by saying “The most efficient way to summarize Bobbie Rosenfeld’s career is to say that she was not good at swimming.”
In hockey, she was dubbed the superwoman of ladies hockey and was arguably the most famous female hockey player in the country during that time. She would help guide the Toronto Patterson Pats to the 1927 and 1929 Ontario Championship and she was considered to be the most outstanding women’s hockey player in all of Ontario during the first part of the 1930s.
In 1929, she would have an arthritis attack and be bed ridden and on crutches for eight months. She would recover and get back to competing in sports, but the writing was now on the wall.
By 1933, the arthritis was becoming severe and she would be forced to stop competing. She didn’t leave sports though. She would coach the Canadian women’s track and field team at the Commonwealth Games that year. She would also serve as an administrator and official in softball and hockey in Ontario.
In 1936, she decided it was time to find a new career and she became a journalist, writing a sports column for the Globe and Mail for the next 20 years and pushing for greater participation of women in sports. Originally her column was called Femmes Sports Reel, then Feminine Sports Reel and then just Sports Reel. When promoting women’s sports, she would argue against the belief that athletic activity made women unattractive and she would emphasize the attractiveness of female athletes, their marriages and children when names such as Amazonian women and muscle molls was levied against women athletes.
She also had a wonderful way with words. On Jan. 10,1 941, she published the following column that I will take bits from to showcase her desire to have women in sports taken seriously. It states,
“one of those periodic diatribes against Eve has burst into print again. It’s author is Jack Milley, chivalrous two-fisted scribbler with the New York Post, who once earned himself a black eye from the first of Dizzy Dean in an encounter in Florida. It’s the same old malarkey flavoring most all misogynistic articles levelled at women athletes.”
She goes on to quote Milley, who said that a woman’s face flush from a hot stove is prettier than one that has been produced from running in sport. He says in his column “Women’s place is in the home and I never saw a girl yet who didn’t look a sight better with a frying pan than a tennis racquet.”
Bobbie would respond in her column the following.
“What is more beautiful in sport than a graceful figure poised atop a high diving board, leaning forward, arms arched and floating into space, coming down into the water like a great sea bird, a thing of infinite grace, striking smoothly, without a splash and streaking into the depths, leaving hardly a ripple? Or watching Alice Marble gliding over tennis courts or the sight of some graceful girl golfer swing with precise rhythm and a certain power on a teed-up ball.”
On another occasion, a Vancouver sports writer questioned the role of women in sport. Rosenfeld responded with an excellent bit of writing, she said:
“Athletic maids, to arms! We are taking up the sword and high time it is, in defence of our so-called athletic bodies to give the lie to those pen flourishers who depict us not as paragons of feminine physique, beauty and health but rather as Amazons and ugly ducklings, all because we have become sport-minded and have chosen to delve so wholeheartedly into competitive sport.”
In 1967, a testimonial dinner was held in Barrie for her, celebrating her accomplishments throughout her life.
Bobbie would pass away on Nov. 13, 1969. Upon her death, the Globe and Mail called her “that rarity, a natural athlete”
The honours for her are many. In 1949 she was inducted into Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame. She would be named Canada’s Female Athlete of the First Half Century of the 20th Century.
In 1976, she would be recognized as a person of National Historic Person. In 1982, she was inducted to Jewish Sports Hall Of Fame and in 1985 she was inducted into the Barrie Sports Hall of Fame Society, one of the first three individuals inducted. In 1991, Bobbie Rosenfeld Park would be named for her, located between Rogers Centre and the CN Tower. A plaque honours her at the foot of the CN Tower as well. In 1996, a stamp was issued in her honour and in 1998 she was inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame. In 2016 she was one of the five finalists considered for the new $10 Canadian banknote. As well, the Female Athlete of the Year trophy, presented annually by the Canadian Press since 1978, is named for her.
It could be argued that Bobbie Rosenfeld was not just Canada’s Female Athlete of the First Half-Century, but the Female Athlete of the Century for the country.
Information comes from Canadian Encyclopedia, Olympic.ca, Jewish Women’s Archive, Wikipedia, Ontario Sports Hall of Fame, Simcoe County The Recent Pass, Claresholm Local Press, Medium.com, CBC