March 20: The First U.S. Figure Skating Championships

 

Today in 1914, the first “International Style” Figure Skating Championship competition in the United States was held in New Haven, Connecticut. While amateur ice skating had been a popular American pastime since the colonial days, modern figure skating — an artistic blend of dance moves and other technical feats performed on ice — was first pioneered by American-born skater Jackson Haines in the 1860s. Prudish Victorian sensibilities prevented Haines’ style of skating from becoming very popular in the U.S. during his lifetime, but proved to be a hit in Europe, where Haines traveled extensively during the late 19th century.

Theresa Weld was not only the first ladies champion, she and partner Nathaniel Niles took silver in the pairs competition

By the early 1900s, Haines’ style of figure skating, then popularly known as “International Style” skating, had finally caught on in the United States, spawning numerous local skate clubs as well as national skate-related organizations like the International Skating Union of America (ISU). In 1914, the ISU of America organized the first International Style championship competition ever held in the United States, opening up the event to all amateur skaters in the U.S. and any foreign skaters who happened to be in the U.S. at the time of the competition. The venue was the New Haven Arena ice rink on Wall Street, and local newspapers eagerly encouraged Elm City residents to seize the opportunity to view “the pick of the fancy skaters” during the two-day competition.

Norman Mackie Scott, a Canadian, would take home the top prize for the men’s figure skating competition (and would go on to win the same title in Canada’s own figure skating championships later that year). The women’s champion was Theresa Weld (later Theresa Weld Blanchard) of Massachusetts, who would go on to become a three-time Olympic skater and, together with her skating partner Nathaniel Niles, found and edit Skating magazine for 40 years. Weld and Niles also won in the third and final category of competition: “Pair-skating,” a couple’s routine set to a waltzing tune. A pioneering path for aspiring American figure skaters was blazed in ice in downtown New Haven, today in Connecticut history.

Further Reading

Jim Fuller, “Elm City hosts inaugural figure skating national championships,New Haven Register

Ryan Stevens, “The 1914 U.S. Figure Skating Championships,” Skate Guard blog