The Luminous Lottie Dod

Pioneering female skating stars are no stranger to Skate Guard if the glimpses at the contributions to the art of Madge Syers and Mabel Davidson were any example. This particular blog looks at the story of an equally unconventional pioneer in skating, whose contributions to sports in general are quite frankly nothing short of mind blowing.

Charlotte "Lottie" Dod was born September 24, 1871 in Bebington, Merseyside, England and was the youngest of Joseph and Margaret Dod's four children. Joseph Dod was originally from Liverpool and had amassed a fortune in the cotton trade, and this wealth afforded Lottie and her siblings the luxury of never having to work a day in their lives. Privately educated by tutors and governesses, the Dod children all found time to pursue their mutual interest in recreation and sports. Annie Dod, Lottie's sister excelled in tennis, golf, billiards and like her sister, skating. Tony Dod was an archer, golfer and chess player. William Dod won the gold medal at the 1908 Summer Olympics in archery (Men's double York round) in a field of twenty seven. However, it was Lottie who would become known as "The Little Wonder" and be recognized by The Guinness Book Of World Records which once named her the all-time most versatile female athlete, a distinction she now shares with Babe Didrickson Zaharias.

What earned Lottie this honor? Before I get to her skating accomplishments, I want to start with a look at everything else. In 1887, she won her first of five Wimbledon tennis tournaments on her first try at the age of fifteen. She founded a field hockey team and soon became captain of that too. She later found herself on England's national team, beating Ireland in an 1899 game. Who scored the winning goals? You guessed it - Lottie! She helped establish a golf club and won the British Ladies Amateur Golf title in 1904. In 1908, she joined her brother in competing in archery at the Summer Olympics, taking home the silver medal in the women's double National round. She also enjoyed horseback riding. Oh, I'm just getting started! Those were just the summer sports.

Women's Double National Round competition in Archery at the 1908 Summer Olympics

Lottie made her way to St. Moritz, Switzerland, the winter sport (and skating) mecca during that era. While there, she became the first woman to complete the toboggan course on St. Moritz's world famous Cresta Run. Harry Stone's book "Ski Joy: The Story Of Winter Sports" explains "there was even an attempt in 1896 at playing cricket on skates. St. Moritz, always seeking out rivals, challenged Davos. Ladies included at the St. Moritz team starred Lottie Dod, a five times winner at Wimbledon. She more than proved her worth by taking five wickets for four runs." She also competed in curling. Okay, this woman is Wonder Woman, is she not? I'm telling you! This is insane!

Her accomplishments as a skater were in themselves pretty damn impressive. In 1896, she passed the St. Moritz Ladies' Skating Test in the Continental Style and then returned the next year and took the St. Moritz Men's Skating Test and passed that with flying colors too. Jean Williams' book "A Contemporary History of Women's Sport, Part One: Sporting Women, 1850-1960" tells us a tiny bit more about her skating achievement (which would have been HUGE and probably quite controversial at that time): "Dod was coached by Harold Topham to pass the men's St. Moritz skating test, training for at least two hours a day over two months in the winter of 1886-1887". Although that doesn't tell us a lot about her interest in skating, it does give us an important clue.

Lottie Dod taking the St. Moritz Men's Skating Test in 1887

Who was Harold Topham? Not "any old skating coach". He was a British mountaineer. Guess what Lottie started doing while she was in St. Moritz and wasn't skating? Mountaineering. In February 1896, she ascended Piz Zupo (four thousand and two metres), a mountain in the Bernina Range in Switzerland and Italy with Elizabeth Main (another female mountaineer and photographer) and a Swiss guide. After a long family cycling trip in Italy that took in three cities, Lottie and brother Tony headed to Norway and climbed several mountains. Watch out Julie Andrews... I think Lottie looked into the future and took that advice about "climbing every mountain" quite literally.

Lottie's non-sporting accomplishments are also absolutely worth mention. She was an accomplished contralto singer who performed with the London Oriana Madrigal Society, a piano and banjo player and during World War I received a Red Cross Gold Medal for her service at a military hospital in Speen. She also worked with youth clubs in Great Britain, including the Girl Guides, whom she taught piano and part singing.

Interestingly, Dod wasn't the only athlete to make considerable strides in multiple sports. New Zealand's Corinne Gilkison not only won national titles in ladies, pairs skating and ice dancing in her country in 1947 and 1948, but she also won several national speed skating titles, the 1948 New Zealand Women's Skiing Championships, was runner-up in her country's Nationals in doubles tennis and won two Otago Bronze Golf Championships.

Attending every Wimbledon tennis event until she was in her late eighties, Dod died at eighty eight in a nursing home in Sway, Hampshire, never having married. Amy Nutt's Sports Illustrated article "Wimbledon's First Wunderkind" purports a tale surrounding her death that I was absolutely unable to substantiate but if true makes for quite a movie-worthy ending to a life well lived: "It is said that at the time of her death, on June 27, 1960, 88-year-old Charlotte Dod was listening to the 83rd Wimbledon Championships on her radio in a nursing home in Sway, near England's southern coast. Only 70 miles away the hydrangeas were in bloom outside the All England Club, and the grass courts inside were worn from nearly a week of constant play. In just a few days the women's final would be played. At the end of the match the crowd would stand and cheer just as they had 73 years earlier for Dod..."

This piece originally appeared as part of a six-part podcast series called Axels In The Attic. You can listen to Allison Manley of The Manleywoman SkateCast and Ryan Stevens of Skate Guard's audio version on Podbean or iTunes.

Skate Guard is a blog dedicated to preserving the rich, colourful and fascinating history of figure skating. Over ten years, the blog has featured over a thousand free articles covering all aspects of the sport's history, as well as four compelling in-depth features. To read the latest articles, follow the blog on FacebookTwitterPinterest and YouTube. If you enjoy Skate Guard, please show your support for this archive by ordering a copy of the figure skating reference books "The Almanac of Canadian Figure Skating", "Technical Merit: A History of Figure Skating Jumps" and "A Bibliography of Figure Skating":