The “Kaszubki Complaint”

By Cat Ariail

After returning from the 1948 Olympic Games in London, the U.S. Olympic Committee (USOC) sought feedback from athletes, presumably to use such information to improve logistics for future international competitions.  Frances Kaszubski, a shot putter and discus thrower, took full advantage of this opportunity. She composed a ten-page letter, detailing the indignities she believed U.S. female athletes bore during the Olympic fortnight. Kaszubksi opened her letter,

“In reply to the numerous requests for information relative to the 1948 US Women’s Olympic Track & Field Team, I find it necessary to list the facts as to exactly what took place aboard the S.S. America [the ship on which the US Olympic team travelled to London] and in England.  From these facts, you will be able to deduce why the so excellently rated team made so miserable a showing in the Olympic Games.”[1]

Kaszubski’s letter is an aggressive, bold defense of the rights of female athletes. While recognized as an influential figure in the history of women’s sports, Kaszubksi not often is considered a progressive crusader. According to Susan Cahn, “The most tenacious defenders of women’s track and field were the few women who obtained leadership positions within the AAU. In the 1950s two such advocates – former track champions Roxy Andersen and Frances Kaszubski – spearheaded efforts to revive their sport in the face of widespread public apathy or hostility.  Andersen and Kaszubksi worked tirelessly to establish feminine credentials for track and field.”[2]  Cahn further notes, “Playing on references to track and field as the ‘cinder sport’ (because of cinder tracks), Kaszubski described the women as ‘Modern Cinderellas,” instating that “top-notch women were ‘photogenic and attractively feminine.’”[3]

The Kaszubski revealed in the letter to the USOC contrasts with the Kaszubki described by Cahn.  Rather than adhering to prevailing conventions, the Kazubksi of 1948 unapologetically advocated for equality.  The apparent change in Kaszubki’s ideologies, or at least her tone, indicates the consequence of her letter.  She closed her letter by calling for a “NEW DEAL” for women’s track and field.  Women’s track and field would receive a “NEW DEAL,” just not in the direction Kaszubki envisioned after her return from London.[4] Thus, it proves instructive to explore Kaszubksi’s complaint in order both to appreciate the stance she took and evaluate its significance.

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A photo of the 1948 U.S. Women’s Olympic Track and Field team, published in the Baltimore Afro-American on July 24, 1948.

Before outlining her critiques, Kaszubski recounted the selection process for women’s track and field team.  Although each nation could send up to thirty-two athletes for the track and field competition, the USOC required that female athletes met strict standards, resulting in only twelve athletes qualifying for the Games.  Kaszubski used this information to suggest that the relatively poor performances of the U.S. track and field women in London could not be explained by their lack of talent.  Kaszubki asked, “Why were then, when each of these girls was capable of placing in the finals of Olympic competition, did this not happen?”[5]

However, according to the New York Times’s coverage of the US women’s track and field trials,  “the performances in some of the other final tryouts were so disappointing that Mrs. Catherine Donovan Meyer and her Olympic women’s track and field committee had to go into a three-hour session before they could select the make-up of the team.”[6] USOC press releases, like Kaszubski, used the standards female track and field athletes had to meet to trumpet the quality of the American team. For instance, one release proclaimed, “Women athletes who aspire to place on the US Olympic women’s track and field team must run faster and jump and throw farther than in 1947 to make the squad.”[7]

The USOC decision to require female track and field athletes to meet strict standards allowed different individuals to use the qualification standards to burnish the quality of female athletes who made the team or criticize the lack of ability of US female athletes.  For Kaszubki, the strict adherence to the standards allowed her to emphasis their talent.  She thereby could argue that Coach Catherine Meyer deserved most of the blame for the U.S. women’s lackluster performances. She first described Meyer as “one great big flop as a coach, totally incompetent, unqualified in every sense of the word, and altogether incapable of uniting the 12 girls as one team.”[8]  According to Kaszubski,

“Catherine Meyer did not care to take the time or trouble to have a friendly chat with girls – neither individually nor as a team. She did, however, give them the impression that they were on the team because of her wishes and not as a result of their own performances in the Tryouts. Also, she was not aware of the fact that the athletes, although only twelve in number, represented an age range from 16 to 32 years of age.”[9]

Kaszubski then suggests Meyer treated her younger teammates as “juvenile delinquents,” noting, “She seems to take particular delight in being able to admonish a girl in public, announcing to all within earshot: ‘I’m your coach, you know, and if you don’t do exactly as I tell you, you’ll be sent back on the next boat.’”[10]

Kaszubski’s comments point to an often unrecognized category that determines female athlete experience – age.  Her complaints suggest a sensitivity to the different positionings of her teammates. For the 1948 women’s track and field squad, age difference also intersected with racial difference.  The fact that the team’s youngest athletes were also African American adds greater significance to Kaszubski’s accusations. Kaszubski wrote,

“During the seven days on the S.S. America, there was not one meal that went by without Catherine Meyer picking and finding fault with Mae Fagg’s selection of food, her taste in clothing, or her table manners. This was MOST UNCALLED FOR.”[11]

She continued,

“It did none of us any good to see Mae treated like a step-child and I know that although the other girls resented the coaches [sic] remarks, they did not feel that they were in a position to tell her off.”[12]

Possibly, Kaszubki was hesitant to accuse Meyer of racism. Or, maybe she understood such an accusation would not earn her sympathy with white male USOC officials.  In a moment of changing race relations, age may have represented a more comfortable, coded way for Kaszubski to discuss the inequitable treatment received by African American female athletes.  Regardless, her empathy for Faggs was notable for the historical moment.  Furthermore, her suggestion that her teammates wished to discuss the unfair treatment of Faggs with Meyer offers a rare glimpse of the interracial relations between female athletes.

Although National AAU women’s track and field championships were integrated events, individual teams remained segregated, with white women primarily competing on club teams and black women competing on collegiate teams at black colleges.  The U.S. Olympic team thus represented a rare interracial women’s team.  The recollections of Alice Coachman, who became the first black woman to win a gold medal with her high jump victory, suggest the young black women appreciated the attitudes of Kaszubki and other white team members.  According to a 1996 article in the Philadelphia Tribune, the Games represented the first time in Coachman’s life that she “experienced blacks and whites living together, united by their talent not divided by their race.”[13] Kaszubksi’s letter valuably illuminates how gender, race, and age intersected to determine the experience of female athletes.

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Kaszubki’s noteworthy empathy, however, did not extend to Coach Catherine Meyer. Kaszubski portrayed Meyer as an unsympathetic, schoolmarmish authoritarian who was more concerned with disciplining her athletes than cultivating a successful team.  On the surface, Kaszubki’s accusations suggest Meyer deserves this harsh portrayal. Yet, it is important to recognize that Kaszubski traffics in sexist stereotypes in order to disparage Meyer. She accused Meyer of being “too busy with social occasions,” suggesting that “Mrs. Meyer would have been wise to have remained in her stateroom to sleep off the after effects of the previous night’s strenuous routine.”[14] As portrayed by Kaszubski,  Meyer could not fulfill her coaching obligations because she constantly was primping for and recovering from social events.  She further noted of Meyer,

“She was too busy with social engagements. When and if we were able to find her, she was irritable from lack of sleep, had a headache, or was fussing about who would do her laundry and what she would wear……The coaches [sic] social calendar was so heavy that many times while she was dressing to go out with one official, another was on the telephone and the chauffeurs of the waiting escorts made comments that can’t be included in this report.”[15]

Kaszubki also expressed particular disdain for Meyer’s boasts about her socializing ventures, writing,

“We will never be able to understand what she tried to accomplish or why she might have tried to impress us with constant and free reference to top AAU and Olympic officials as ‘Jim, Dan, Avery, Asa’ etc….I do not consider it proper under any circumstance, let alone with young athletes present, to have the coach speak of Mr. Avery Brundage as a ‘stuffed shirt.’ It would have been so much nicer for her to speak of a Mr. Brundage, Mr. Rhodes, Mr. Ferris, Mr. Bushnell, etc.”[17]

Although her complaints about Meyer’s tales appear merited, Kaszubki intentionally chose not to try to understand Meyer’s position.  Meyer may have felt compelled to earn the approval of male USOC officials on whom her authority was dependent, even as she was frustrated by their posturing.  Her constant ingratiation with male official may have been necessary to preserve support for her team, especially since “Avery” was a well-known skeptic of women’s track and field.  Instead, Kaszubski presented Meyer as a loose, gossipy, and selfish woman, stereotypes used throughout the postwar years in order to police the behavior of women who diverged from the heteronormative housewife model.

Furthermore, Kaszubksi did not consider that Meyer’s responsibilities also included ensuring her athletes’ behaviors did not offended the traditional gender expectations of male officials. Kaszubki wrote,

“Regarding the training aboard the S.S. America, the girls were instructed by Catherine Meyer to do absolutely no jogging on the deck, in spite of the fact that all the male athletes were doing so and without any ill effects. Yet, foolishly enough she did instruct us to go through calisthenics in the inside gymnasium and then go out on deck and do walking.”[18]

Regardless of the veracity of her accusations, Kaszubski’s complaints reveal the complex interaction of gender within women’s sport.  In order advocate for the rights of female athletes, Kaszubki engaged in gender stereotypes. Her letter inconsistently mixes progressive and retrogressive gendered stances.  Rather than evidence of her hypocrisy, her letter highlights the ideological challenges encountered by advocates of women’s sport who sought to a forge place in the masculine world of sport in a society in the process of reverting back to more conservative gender values.

frances-kaszubski-4

Frances Kaszubski throwing the discus (Photo courtesy of clevelandwomen.com).

However, Kaszubki’s account of Meyer’s actions in London suggest her ability to please male officials actually may have represented her foremost coaching qualification.  Kaszubki detailed Meyer’s repeated abdication of her duties, which included abandoning  Jean Walraven at Wembley Stadium after she competed in the semifinals of the 80-meter hurdles.  Meyer’s faults proved doubly discriminatory for, not only did the U.S. track and field women not have a coach who best served them, but, due to the inequitable conditions and resources for female athletes, Meyer’s ineffectiveness further disadvantaged Kaszubki and her teammates by delaying the time it took to get their complaints addressed.

Kaszubki declared, “THE LIVING CONDITIONS WERE GHASTLY!” “I want to describe the dingy little rooms which were to be our home,” she began.

“They were no bigger than 8 by 10 feet, and very poorly lit and still more poorly furnished. The beds were something that you have to see to believe. The framework does resemble an American bed but, instead of springs, there is a wire (stretched and sagging in the middle, like a hammock) attached to the four sides of the framework.  Over the wire is a straw mattress.  This mattress not only sags, but it is lumpy and bumpy! After one night’s attempt at sleep, we all woke up with sore hips, backaches, stiff muscles, etc.”[19]

As London continued to recover from World War II, all athletes dealt with rations and other inconveniences.  Yet, the U.S. men’s track and field team enjoyed much less discomfort than their female counterparts.  The U.S. men’s team stayed at the former Royal Air Force camp of Uxbridge, in downtown London, whereas the U.S. women were housed at Southlands College in Wimbledon, ten miles from London.  Not only were the amenities at Southlands second class, but the distance from competition locations, training grounds, food distribution, and USOC administrators exacerbated the disadvantageous circumstances experienced by the female athletes.

Kaszubki further argued that poor accommodations and inadequate food demonstrably impacted the physical capacities of the U.S. track and field women, charging,

“Instead of getting into excellent physical condition for the Olympic competition, each day we were getting more and more out of condition because of the poor beds, going out to train during morning dampness or rains, lack of shower facilities after practice, poor food….Some of the girls had colds, almost all were menstruating early as a result of the change in climate, and all of us were waking up during the night either from hunger, uncomfortable beds, or both.”[20]

She even suggested “we reached the point where we couldn’t even jog a quarter [of a mile] for a warm-up.”[21]

According to Kaszubki, Meyer’s response to these difficulties consisted of reiterating, “A Champion is one who wins inspite [sic] of all obstacles.”[22]  Although her complaints appear dramatized, Kaszubki was hospitalized in London.  As she described it,

“Because of the conditions, as explained above, the writer had to be taken to an R.A.F. Hospital,” where “an English doctor diagnosed the condition as having resulted from chilled muscles which became inflamed and swollen, causing pressure on sacro-iliac [sic] nerve contours.”[23]

Kaszubki received a novocaine injection and sleeping pills to relieve her ailments, leading her to declare,

“That kind of treatment the evening before Olympic competition should not be necessary and persons responsible for the deplorable condition of our girl athletes should never again be permitted to serve either on an AAU or Olympic Committee.”[24]

Kaszubski detailed descriptions, especially her comments about menstruation, and strong declaration against the AAU and USOC represent bold assertions of female athlete rights uncharacteristic of her historical moment (or even our current one).  Her letter also reveals that female athletes had earned only partial inclusion in the Olympic Movement in 1948.  While allowed to compete, they were not given the resources and support necessary to succeed, suggesting their inclusion was not welcomed.  Material equality is required for female athletes to experience full equality. As Kaszubki rightfully asked,

“Did anyone take the girls complaints seriously? Was anyone really interested in making them comfortable? Or, were we just being tolerated because we happened to be there?”[25]

Kaszubki’s recounting of her frustrations continued, as she offered a litany of examples to illustrate further the secondary status of female athletes in London. While long and detailed, her letter offers a valuable perspective, even if a bit exaggerated, of the experiences of female athletes. She closed her letter,

“For further information and details or explanations, do not hesitate to contact the writer. Let’s see if we can’t rid ourselves of rotten apples and give the sport of Women’s Track & Field a NEW DEAL.”[26]

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Yet, evidence demonstrates the men of the USOC did not need further information to draw their own simplified and debased conclusions about Kaszubksi. Correspondence between USOC President Avery Brundage, USOC Counselor John T. McGovern, USOC Secretary Asa Bushnell, and USOC Administration Committee Chairman T. Nelson Metcalf reveals bad press, rather concern or curiosity, inspired them to investigate Kaszubki’s complaint.  In a letter to Brundage, McGovern indicates the issue has arisen due to “a Cleveland reporter approach[ing] her for an explanation of ‘the inglorious showing’ of the team and especially herself who came from Cleveland.”[27]

McGovern quickly determined that “the real error” was including Kaszubski on the team. And in response to her inquiry about who would ensure that her concerns would be rectified, McGovern sarcastically proposed, “How about the Security Council of the United Nations.”[28]  McGovern’s letter to Brundage set the tone for the USOC officials’ exchanges about Kaszubski. Instead of investigating her complaint, they sought to indict her.  Because they were offended that she questioned their authority (the correspondents repeatedly noted that she referred to them as “brass hats”), they aimed to prove the illegitimacy of her complaints.

In a separate letter to Brundage, McGovern wrote, “Some members [of the USOC Administration Committee] say ‘the lady is ill-advised’.”[29]  He continued,

“It may be that when the Chairman of the Administration Committee examines the contradictions in the file he may decide, as did one of the physicians I am told, that there is evidence of mental maladjustment.”[30]

Bushnell, in a letter to Metcalf, similarly condemned Kaszsubki.  He suggested she fabricated her complaints, using them to excuse for her poor performance London.  This accusation ignored her hospitalization due to muscular ailments.  He also described her frustrations with Meyer as “one of those peculiarly feminine outbursts against a Coach who was of the same sex.”[31]  This dismissal allowed Bushnell to ignore Kaszubski’s accusations against Meyer, including Meyer’s mistreatment of Mae Faggs.

Bushnell and McGovern further believed they possessed proof that Kaszubski’s criticism were unfounded.  Reporting to Metcalf, Bushnell wrote,

“One aspect of the case which puzzles Counselor McGovern is the contradiction between the assertion of the complainant that she was mandated by the competitors of the Women’s Track and Field Team to make complaint against their Coach, Mrs. Catherine Meyer, and the card signed by ten of the twelve competitors while aboard the ship, during the return crossing, which card indicates that their Coach, Mrs. Meyer, had received presents from the competitors along with the spontaneous expression of gratitude and appreciation.”[32]

These men unquestionably accepted the these gestures of affection as proof that the female track and field athletes did not experience poor coaching and encounter inequitable conditions. They could not imagine the complex positioning of female athletes.

Curiously, the Report of the United States Olympic Committee for the 1948 Games confirms the veracity of some of Kaszubski’s complaints. Frank McCormick, housing chairman, reported that “The beds were not comfortable,” while noting “the problem of administration which was made most difficult and unsatisfactory because of the distance to Uxbridge.”[33]  Regarding food services, Charles Ornstein, chairman of the food committee, stated, “The kitchen and dining room, I must say, were completely unsatisfactory and inadequate.”  He also noted that “refrigeration was lacking, as were storage facilities.”[34]  Ada Sackett, women’s liaison officer, similarly reported, “The very precious milk which was made available at Southlands College often soured because there was not enough room for it in the refrigerator.”[35]  Even as USOC officials castigated Kaszubki, they approved the publication of a report that supported her estimation of the material inadequacies faced by female track and field athletes.

The inclusion of these statements in the official report indicate that officials did not believe that Kaszubki suffered from “mental maladjustment.”  Accusations of mental instability instead allowed McGovern, Bushnell, and the other male officials to dismiss and silence a woman who questioned their authority and threatened their power.  As discussed above, Kaszubski’s letter contains a complicated mix of progressive attitudes and regressive accusations.  The USOC officials erased this complexity by instantly questioning Kaszubski’s mental stability.

Unfortunately, this sexist strategy appeared to have served its purpose.  Kaszubki remained an active figure in women’s track and field through the AAU, but, as the descriptions from Susan Cahn suggest, moderated her aggressive defense of the rights of female track and field athletes.  In the 1950s, she made sure to emphasize femininity before advocating for equality.  The two Kaszubski are not necessarily inconsistent; one can aggressively believe in athletic equity and athletic femininity.  Her radical edge, however, was curtailed.  In particular, an emphasis on femininity, which connoted whiteness, required Kaszubski to privilege the promotion of white female athletes, a notable difference from her interracial advocacy of 1948. According to Cahn, Kaszubki’s attention to the femininity of female athletes “theoretically included a defense of black athletes as well as white, [but] the language and visual imagery of most AAU publicity indicates an effort to put distance between the sport’s image and its African American stars,” (136).

In turn, Kaszubski became more like Catherine Meyer than she probably desired to admit. She chose to preserve her position of power rather than change the power structure, cooperating with the male officials she excoriated in 1948.  Her decision is understandable and not exceptional.  Yet, the “Kaszubski Complaint,” as this episode was labeled by Avery Brundage, is significant.  It reveals the detrimental influence sexist accusations have had on progress for women’s sport.  It also demonstrates how sexist slights serve to silence female athletes from candidly sharing their experiences, which valuably illuminate the always complicated and sometimes inconsistent intersection of gender and race within women’s sport.

While U.S. female athletes would never again face the obvious indignities experienced in London, women’s sport did not receive the “NEW DEAL” Kaszubski imagined. According to Ed Temple, a coach for the 1964 women’s track and field team, U.S. female sprinters had to borrow starting blocks from other nations while in Tokyo because the U.S. men refused to share.[36] And today, the US women’s national soccer team continues to fight for equal compensation and facilities. Many of the female athletes who competed in Rio did so with less material support as well.  Although accusations of mental imbalance have been replaced by precise parsings of facts and figures, these strategies both serve to distract from a serious appreciation of the material challenges faced by female athletes.  In other words, Kaszubski’s declaration still rings true – female athletes need a “NEW DEAL.”

Cat Ariail is a PhD student in the Department of History at the University of Miami. She researches women’s sport and race in the late-twentieth century Americas. You can contact her at cat.m.ariail@gmail.com.


[1] Frances Kaszubski to USOC, undated, Box 169, Folder 18, Avery Brundage Collection, University of Illinois Archives, Champaign, IL (hereafter noted as Kaszubski Letter).

[2] Susan Cahn, Coming on Strong: Gender and Sexuality in Twentieth-Century Women’s Sport (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994), 135.

[3] Ibid, 135-136.

[4] Kaszubski Letter.

[5] Ibid.

[6] “Mrs. Kaszubski Annexes Shot Put, Discus Throw in Olympic Tests,” New York Times, 13 July 1948.

[7] George Gardner, “US Olympic Women’s Track & Field,” 15 December 1947, Box 170, Folder 9, Avery Brundage Collection.

[8] Kaszubski Letter.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Paul Newberry, “Alice Coachman: First Black woman to win Olympic Gold,” Philadelphia Tribune, 4 January 1996.

[14] Kaszubski Letter.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] Ibid.

[27] John T. McGovern to Avery Brundage, October 18, 1948, Box 169, Folder 18, Avery Brundage Collection.

[28] Ibid.

[29] John T. McGovern to Avery Brundage, October 29, 1948, Box 169, Folder 18, Avery Brundage Collection.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Asa S. Bushnell to T. Nelson Metcalf, November 3, 1948, Box 169, Folder 18, Avery Brundage Collection.

[32] Ibid.

[33] Asa S. Bushnell, ed., Report of the United States Olympic Committee (New York: United States Olympic Committee, 1949), 273.

[34] Ibid, 270.

[35] Ibid, 275.

[36] Ed Temple, interviewed by Cat Ariail, University Library, Tennessee State University, June 9, 2014.

One thought on “The “Kaszubki Complaint”

  1. Pingback: A Snapshot of the Complicated Culture of Postwar Women’s Sport | Sport in American History

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