Nettie Speedy: Female Journalist, Founder of Chicago Women’s G.C. February 12, 2021 By Jacob Levin

A newspaper article written by Nettie George Speedy in The Chicago Defender in 1922. (The Chicago Defender)

This article is included in a series written by Jacob Levin highlighting the USGA Golf Museum and Library’s African American Newspaper Archive (AANA). Levin serves as the project’s archivist and is a Ph.D. candidate at American University studying the intersection of sports, religion, race and civil rights in America. The series is inspired by articles from The Chicago Defender, one of two newspapers currently included in the AANA. During the early and mid-20th century, The Chicago Defender was the nation’s most influential and widely circulated African-American newspaper.  

Like many industries, journalism is often (accurately) described as a “boys’ club,” so imagine what an indomitable presence Nettie George Speedy must have been to become the “Dean of Women Journalists,” as she was called later in her career.

Nettie George was born in Winchester, Ky., in November 1878. She worked for several newspapers during her career, including The Spokesman, The Metropolitan Post, and most famously for The Chicago Defender. Her main writing topics included courts, crime, theater and sports, and she was a tireless advocate for African Americans, especially African-American women.

Nettie George married Walter Speedy Sr. in 1909. Speedy worked as a tailor, but one of his strongest passions was golf. He quickly became one of the best players not only in the Chicago area,  but nationally. However, in the early 20th century he and other African-American golfers were barred from entering city and state tournaments, even those held on public courses, simply because they were Black.

This racial discrimination became a frequent topic of Nettie’s newspaper columns, as she advocated that golf tournaments be open to the best competitors, regardless of race. Prior to 1920, there were no official racial barriers in Chicago’s Amateur City Tournament, but when a Black man made it to the semifinals and had a chance to defeat a white golfer, a group of local officials sought to block African Americans from competing. As Speedy put it in her column of Aug. 5, 1922:

“Until the year 1920 there were no restrictions as to entry, only that you should have been a resident of Chicago for one year. In 1918 there were three of our Group, Robert Ball, Walter Speedy and Henry B. Johnson, to qualify for the tournament. No attention was paid to them, at that time, but when Robert Ball played in the semi-finals and there was a possible chance of a Race man wearing the golf crown of the city, someone commenced to get busy. Then, in my opinion, a conspiracy was hatched between Georgia prejudice and Illinois diplomacy which would prevent Race men from participating in the tournament.”

In 1937, Nettie George Speedy founded the Chicago Women’s Golf Club to raise interest in golf among Chicago’s African-American women, sponsoring competitions and developing young players. As the club grew, it became a premier social organization for Black women in the city.

When the Chicago Women’s G.C. was accepted as a USGA Member Club in 1956, its members were permitted to compete in USGA championships. As a result, Ann Gregory, a member of the Chicago Women’s G.C., became the first African-American woman to compete in a USGA championship, playing in both the U.S. Women’s Open and U.S. Women’s Amateur in 1956.

Nettie George Speedy’s legacy is multifaceted and deep. Her years of dogged journalism, advocacy for African-American and women’s rights, and her promotion of the game introduced many to golf. Of all the things she accomplished during her life, her mentorship of African Americans around Chicago remains the most powerful force. The Chicago Women’s G.C. is still going strong after eight decades, and the Walter and Nettie George Speedy Foundation uses golf to promote leadership development among young adult African Americans.

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As the global repository for golf’s shared history, the USGA Golf Museum and Library is committed to elevating diverse perspectives. Since 2014, the Museum has pursued the collection and cataloging of all mentions of golf in two of the nation’s longest running and most widely circulated African-American newspapers, the Baltimore Afro-American (1898-1988) and The Chicago Defender (1909-1979). More than 24,000 articles have been captured in the African American Newspaper Archive (AANA), providing an authentic representation of this critical, but historically underrepresented group in golf history. Due to the breadth of subjects covered, the AANA will serve as a powerful resource for research on race, class, gender, politics, sports, leisure, competition and education in the United States throughout the 20th century. 

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