The 1937 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Robin Lee and Maribel Vinson. Photo courtesy "Skating" magazine.

Held on February 12 and 13, 1937, the 1937 U.S. Figure Skating Championships were a competition full of firsts and lasts. The event marked the first time in history that the U.S. Championships were held away from the Eastern seaboard and the first time that the Open Marking System was used at a national level in the United States. It was also the first time that skaters from the St. Moritz Ice Skating Club in California competed at Nationals. The event also marked the last official duty of longtime USFSA President Charlie Morgan Rotch before the torch was passed on to his successor Joseph K. Savage as well as the final time Maribel Vinson, perennial champion in both women's and pairs skating, would compete at the U.S. Championships.

The Championships were hosted under the auspices of the Chicago Figure Skating Club in the brand new Chicago Arena on East Erie Street and McClurg Court, which opened its doors less than a month before the competition in a building previously occupied by the Chicago Riding Club. In 1946, Roy W. McDaniel reminisced, "An interesting sidelight is the fact that the 1937 National Championships, the first Nationals to be held west of the Alleghenies, were held in the arena within a month after its opening. Mr. [Harry] Radix had attended the 1936 Fall Meeting of the USFSA Executive Committee and had come away with the sanction for the Championships to be held in a rink not then in existence!" At the time, Radix was the Chicago Figure Skating Club's President. In the March 1937 issue of "Skating" magazine, Margaretta Spence Drake remarked, "For a city with as little knowledge and experience of the technique of figure skating as has Chicago, the reaction and interest of both public were most gratifying... The press, for its part, both in quantity and quality of notice given to the competition, showed a sympathetic interest and intelligent appreciation of the sport." To gain a picture about what all the fuss was about, I've sifted through the coverage of that sympathetic press to bring you the stories of the best and the rest from this historic competition.


Dorothy Snell. Photo courtesy the Minnesota Historical Society. Used with permission.

In 1937, no novice pairs or ice dance competitions existed, nor did a junior ice dance event. In fact, Silver Dances - which were later used in national level junior ice dance competitions in the States - were skated by the seniors. In the novice men's competition, Robert Scott of the Oakland Figure Skating Club (one of only four California entries) gave one of the most raved about performances of the event period to claim gold ahead of Michael Driscoll of Boston and Dwight Parkinson of Dartmouth. Philadelphia's Arthur Vaughn, Jr. finished fourth and turned thirteen the next day.

Thirteen year old Marcia Zieget of the Philadelphia Skating Club and Humane Society took the novice women's title ahead of a pair of young women from St. Paul, Dorothy Snell and Shirley Bowman. In the junior women's event, Joan Tozzer of Boston defeated Frances Johnson and Jane Vaughn to take top honours. Ollie Haupt Jr. of St. Louis won the junior men's title ahead of Californian Eugene Turner and Minneapolis' Gene Riechel. Victorious in the junior pairs event were Ardelia Kloss and Roland Janson, representing the Skating Club Of New York. There was a kerfuffle surrounding who came second and third. Initially, it was announced that Detroit's Helen Barrett and Ted Harper had finished only mere decimal points behind Kloss and Janson, but after a judge's meeting, they were actually dropped to third behind Mr. and Mrs. Eduardo Hellmund of Chicago. Yes, Mr. and Mrs. Don't forget, back in those days what category you were in had nothing to do with your age and everything to do with your ability.


Joan Tozzer and Bernard Fox (left) and Maribel Vinson and Geddy Hill (right)

Bostonian duos swept the senior pairs podium. Maribel Vinson and Geddy Hill took the gold ahead of Grace and Jimmie Madden and Joan Tozzer and Bernard Fox. A fourth Boston pair, Polly Blodgett and Roger Turner, failed to place. There were some rumblings about the entry of Nellie Prantel and Harold Hartshorne of the Skating Club Of New York in the senior ice dance competition. Hartshorne was the Chairperson of the USFSA Dance Committee at the same time, thus held a little more clout than some of his competitors. Nevertheless, Prantel and Hartshorne lead the way in an all New Yorker podium ahead of Marjorie Parker and Joseph K. Savage and Ardelle Kloss and Roland Janson, the junior pairs champions. They were the unanimous choice of the judges.


Maribel Vinson. Courtesy of the Boston Public Library, Leslie Jones Collection. Used with permission.

As mentioned earlier, this event marked the final U.S. Championships for Maribel Vinson, who had eight times before claimed the U.S. senior women's title. Even more than usual, she was really in a class by herself. Her only perceived threat came from her Boston training mate Polly Blodgett, but the Chicago crowd rooted for one of its own. Despite putting the pedal to the medal and spending extra time practicing her figures, Nancy Meyer, the daughter of local doctor Karl Meyer, was of no match for her more experienced rivals. Maribel took a hefty lead in the figures, with Blodgett second and Katherine Durbrow of New York third. Dressed fittingly in gold for her free skating performance, Maribel was miles ahead of her competitors, securing her ninth and final senior women's title with a score of 998.6 to Blodgett's 934.3 and Durbrow's 911.5.


Robin Lee (left) and Erle Reiter (right, photo courtesy Minnesota Historical Society)

Seventeen year old Robin Lee of the St. Paul Figure Skating Club had a slow start to his season, but won the Midwestern title in Kansas City prior to coming to Chicago. Twenty year old Erle Reiter of The Skating Club Of New York was a late entry and his only real threat. Lee took a slight lead over Reiter in the figures but trounced him in the free skate to retain his title. The only other competitor, fifty three year old William Nagle of the Manhattan Figure Skating Club took the bronze medal.

Covering the event in the February 14, 1937 issue of "The Chicago Tribune", Charles Bartlett wrote that Lee tried the Salchow jump "twice and not only succeeded but doubled the turn on both occasions, a rare feat even among his elders. Reiter followed him on the expansive arena surface, and came through with what the figure skating bible records as a Lutz one and a half. This is a complex manoeuvre which calls for the combined talents of a trapezist, tight rope dancer, and six day bike rider, but it did not rank with Master Lee's Salchow effort. The judges' huddle verified this by giving Lee a total of 977.09 points for the two days of school and free skating, against Reiter's 964.92. No official tabulation was recorded for Old Mr. Nagle."

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