It would seem that Ethel Edburga Clementina Scott, a member of the British 4 × 100 metres relay team which took the silver medal at the Women’s World Games in Prague in 1930, might be the first woman of Caribbean descent to represent Britain internationally in athletics.1 Women’s World Games took place in Gothenburg (1926), Prague (1930) and London (1934), although it is not clear that Ethel ran. Britain sent a team to the 1932 and 1936 Olympic Games but she does not seem to have been present. Her family was not wealthy, and so her ability to travel may have been limited. Ethel was a sprinter, often specializing in shorter distances like 60 and 100 metres. She probably came to prominence as a result of civil service sport championships, which were frequent enough and high profile to be reported in The Times. For instance, on 10 June 1929, The Times Ethel is reported as winner of a 100 metre race, representing the Ministry of Labour, in a time of 11.4 seconds. On 8 September 1930, The Times reported that she won her 60m heat in front of 15,000 people, in a dramatic race but didn't do well in the final, as some of the leading sprinters in the world were racing. Scott travelled from Prague onto Germany along with Ivy Walker, Florence Latham and Muriel Cornell. We know that she was still active in 1938, and continued to take part until 1950 but if you have any more details of her athletics career or life, please get in touch.
Her father, David Emmanuel, was from Westmoreland, Jamaica. He was a merchant seaman and carpenter, and her mother, Jane, from Essex. Ethel was born on 22 October 1907 in Plaistow, and baptised on 13 November 1907 at St Andrew’s, Plaistow. She died on 7 March 1984, unmarried, in Barking. According to a family history written by his grandson, David Emmnuel Scott, had been born on the 5 April 1865, was killed in action at Scapa Flow on 24 August 1914.2 Having joined the Royal Navy in 1892, he served on HMS Urgent. David settled in Britain in 1900, working as a general labourer. He married Jane Pilgrim, who was from an agricultural family, in 1905 and they had four children: Walter born in 1906; Ethel in 1907; George in 1910, and Marjorie in 1914. David joined the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve in 1914 and died in an accident near the Orkney Islands in 1914. Jane was initially denied a war widows pension because David had not served for long enough.
Ethel worked in the civil service and as a medical secretary. Along with Ivy Walker, Eileen Hiscock and Daisy Ridgley, Ethel took a second place to Germany, and rising international standards combined with more participating nations so that the British team won just four medals in 1930. Other competitors and administrators involved in the widening scope of international women’s sport have yet to find their place in history and more transnational research needed to address this agenda.
Women’s Athletics in the 1920s and 1930s
In 1921 a women's section was formed at London's Kensington Athletic Club. Sophie Eliott-Lynn and Vera Palmer, later known by her married name Searle, helped to found Middlesex Ladies' Athletic Club in 1923 after being important members at Kensington.3 However, the number of working class female athletes was also growing. Business houses hosted athletics meetings for women (including the Dunlop corporation, Lillywhite’s clothing, Lyons Tea Houses, the Post Office, the Police and Selfridge’s Department Store), as did universities like Manchester in 1921 and Birmingham from 1922. War-work, often done alongside men, could be both strenuous and dangerous, either munitions manufacturing on the home front, or nursing at the front line. For instance, Elliot Lynn rode a Harley Davidson as a despatch rider for the War Office and served in France in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps (WAAC) before returning to her agricultural and zoological studies in peacetime.4
In 1921, female representatives from France, Great Britain, Italy, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland took part in an international athletics meeting inaugurated by Alice Joséphine Marie Million, better known by her married name, Alice Milliat, staged in Monte Carlo. The key figure in regards to increasing the IOC schedule for women, was a French rower who went on to lead an international movement. Alice Milliat, she inaugurated an international congress on women and sport attended by American, Austrian, British, Czechoslovakian, French and Spanish representatives. The purpose of this meeting was to gather support for women’s track and field events to be included in the International Olympic Committee’s version of the Games. Milliat’s main target was to persuade the Swedish administrator Sigfried Edström that the International Amateur Athletics Federation, of which he was head, should promote women’s sport.
Milliat had first visited Britain in 1920 as a non-playing administrator with the Paris-based Femina women's football team. She was much impressed by the local hospitality and public support for the Dick, Kerr Ladies football team in Preston. In her subsequent career as an administrator and activist, Milliat devoted considerable energy to promoting women's sports, not just track and field. With the expansion of the programme of the Olympic Games now overseen by the international federations of sport, rather than local organizing committees, Milliat viewed female track and field athletics disciplines as fundamental to the expansion of the programme.
The International Amateur Athletics Federation (IAAF) had been created in August 1913 with Sigfried Edström elected as its President. The IAAF worked closely with the IOC because of the central role of track and field athletics in the Olympic programme. This enhanced Edström's relationship with de Coubertin and therefore his administrative career. In 1920, Edström was co-opted as a member of the IOC, and one year later he joined the first executive board.
While women's swimming, diving, skating, tennis and a mixed yachting event would feature at the Antwerp Olympic Games in 1920, female track and field athletics were not admitted. As a direct response to the International Olympic Committee's refusal of Milliat's request that these events be included in the 1920 Games, the Monte Carlo Games were followed by a conference where, on 31 October 1921, the Fédération Sportive Féminine Internationale (FSFI) was formed. The inclusion of women’s track and field athletics in the Olympic programme became politicized to an unprecedented degree. Milliat became the head of the FSFI lobbying the IOC, until the IAAF took control of the women’s programme in 1936.
After the first Women's Olympic Games held in Paris (1922), Milliat gave in to pressure to rename these meetings the Women's World Games. Subsequent meetings in Gothenburg (1926), Prague (1930) and London (1934) were held apart from, but in tandem with, the IOC version of the Olympics and effectively merged at the Berlin Games in 1936. Since the British Women’s Amateur Athletic Association participated in Milliat’s Women’s World Games, hosting the 1934 competition, as well as sending teams to the IOC Olympics in 1932 and 1936, access to international competition helped youngsters like Ethel Scott to win her place in history.
Conclusion the integration of track and field athletics into the Olympics
Muriel Cornell for instance, went on to join the British Amateur Athletic Board in 1934 and, the following year became the WAAA representative on the BOA Council. The British team manager in Berlin, Muriel also officiated at the London Olympics in 1948 and helped to set up a national coaching scheme. Although this was an emerging transnationalism, the parallel Women’s World Games and IOC competition provide examples of unmistakable connectivity between different kinds of sport and therefore diverse women from a range of backgrounds.
1 Mel Watman ‘Women Athletes Between The World Wars’(1919–1939)’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press accessed 22 February 2020.
2 David Scott of Collingham Collingham in the Great War: David Emmanuel Scott 1865-1914 accessed 22 February 2020.
3 Mel Watman ‘Women Athletes Between The World Wars’
4 Mark Pottle ‘Sophie Catherine Theresa Mary Heath, Lady Heath (1896–1939)’ Oxford Dictionary of National Biography Oxford University Press accessed 10 February 2020.
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