Fanny “Bobbie” Rosenfeld was named Canada’s woman athlete of the first half- century in 1950. She was a consummate all-round athlete, coach, sports administrator, official, and journalist. Born in Dnepropetrovsk (Yekaterinoslav until 1926), Russia on December 28, 1903(?), she immigrated to Canada with her parents and older brother when she was still an infant; they settled in Barrie, Ontario. Her father Max Rosenfeld operated a junk business and her mother Sarah, who gave birth to three more girls, ran the home. Fanny attended Central School and Barrie Collegiate Institute, where she excelled in basketball and track. She was also a talented lacrosse, baseball, and ice hockey player.
In 1922, the Rosenfeld family moved to Toronto. Bobbie continued her athletic career by playing in women’s hockey, baseball, and basketball industrial leagues. In 1923, while playing softball in a sport carnival near Barrie, Rosenfeld was coaxed by her teammates to run in a 100-yard dash event organized by the sports director of the Canadian National Exhibition (CNE). She won the race, defeating Rosa Grosse, the reigning Canadian champion. This episode catapulted Rosenfeld’s athletic career. She soon found a job at Patterson’s, a chocolate factory that sponsored her athletic endeavors. She also joined the prestigious Toronto Ladies Athletic Club and was in the company of the best female track athletes in Canada. In 1923, at a CNE-sponsored track meet attended by Tom Eck’s Chicago Flyers, Rosenfeld not only defeated Grosse again in the same event, but also the American world record holder, Helen Filkey. For a time, Rosenfeld and Grosse both held the 100-yard dash world record at 11 seconds.
At the 1925 Ontario Ladies Track and Field championships, in a single day performance, Rosenfeld placed first in discus, shot put, 220-yard dash, low hurdles, and long jump, and placed second in the javelin and 100-yard dash. In the mid-1920s, she held national records in the 440-yard open relay with a CNE relay team, as well as in the standing broad jump, discus, javelin, and shot put.
In addition to track and field, Rosenfeld played basketball on Toronto’s Young Women’s Hebrew Association (YWHA) team that twice went to the finals of the national championship. She played on city championship teams in ice hockey, fastball, and softball. In 1924, having only just taken up the sport, Rosenfeld claimed the title of the Toronto Ladies Grass Court Tennis championship. She also competed in lacrosse, golf, and speed skating.
Rosenfeld’s greatest athletic achievements occurred at the 1928 Olympic Games in Amsterdam. The six female members of Canada’s track and field team were known as the “Matchless Six.” The 100-meter sprint ended in a photo finish and, amidst a flurry of confusion, Rosenfeld was declared the second place runner. In order to compete in the finals of this race, she had to withdraw as a serious medal contender from the discus throw. Rosenfeld entered the controversial 800-meter race mainly to support and encourage another Canadian athlete. During the race, when her teammate did indeed falter, Rosenfeld ran up beside her but let her finish ahead in fourth place while she took fifth. Reports by witnesses of this unselfish display claim that Rosenfeld could possibly have secured a bronze medal had she passed her teammate. Rosenfeld was the leadoff runner of the Canadian squad in the 400-meter relay that went on to win a gold medal and set a new world record. After a second gold medal victory in the high jump, the “Matchless Six” earned the women’s track and field team title.
Over the next few years Rosenfeld continued to compete periodically in a number of sports, until severe arthritis forced her retirement from active participation in 1933. A year later she was coach of the Canadian women’s track and field team at the British Commonwealth Games in London, England. During the 1930s, she was an administrator and official in women’s softball and ice hockey in Ontario. In 1936, Rosenfeld began to work in the sports department of the Globe and Mail. A year later she introduced a column called “Feminine Sports Reel” and was a staunch advocate of women’s sport. Her last column appeared on December 3, 1958 but she continued to work for the newspaper until 1966. Rosenfeld died on November 13, 1969.
A year before her 1950 honor as Canada’s woman athlete of the first half-century, Rosenfeld and other members of the “Matchless Six” were among the first athletes inducted into the newly created Canadian Sports Hall of Fame. Each year since 1978, the Canadian Press awards Canada’s female athlete of the year with the Bobbie Rosenfeld Trophy. In 1981, she was inducted into the International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in the Wingate Institute of Physical Culture near Netanyah, Israel. In 1987, the Historic Sites and Monuments Board of Canada honored Rosenfeld, with three other male athletes, as one of the most important sports figures in Canadian history. In 1991, the Bobbie Rosenfeld Park was established in downtown Toronto between the SkyDome and the CN Tower. The Barrie Sports Hall of Fame, the Toronto Historical Board, the Canadian Committee on Women’s History, and Canada Post have also recognized her incredible contribution to sport—“that of a woman who was able to achieve excellence in sport, live an athletic life, and be acknowledged as a great champion and person.”
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McDonald, David and Lauren Drewery. For the Record: Canada's Greatest Women Athletes. Toronto: 1981;
The Natural Athlete: Fanny "Bobbie" Rosenfeld (documentary film). History Television (1999);
Official Report of the IX Olympiad, Canadian Olympic Committee (1928);
Perlmutter, Philip. More Jewish Sports Champions. New York: 1973;
Rosenfeld Files, Canadian Sports Hall of Fame, Ottawa;
Siegman, Joseph. The International Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. New York: 1992;
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The Toronto Star, November 14, 1969;
The Toronto Telegram, November 15, 1969;
Wise, S. F. and Douglas Fisher. Canada's Sporting Heroes. Don Mills, ON: 1974.
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Rosenberg, Danny. "Fanny "Bobbie" Rosenfeld." Jewish Women: A Comprehensive Historical Encyclopedia. 20 March 2009. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 20, 2019) <https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/rosenfeld-fanny>.