(Ed. Note: Following is Part One of a two-part series on one of Malden’s most renowned athletes, Louise May Stokes Fraser. This story originally appeared exclusively in the Malden Advocate in May 2020 and is reprinted today as part of our Women’s History Month coverage. Part Two will appear in next Friday’s edition.)
When she was a young girl, former U.S. Olympian Louise Mae Stokes Fraser would race against boys in her Malden neighborhood on the B&M Railroad tracks just outside of Malden Square. She beat most of them. In a fitting bit of touching irony, part of that historic landmark, now known as the Northern Strand Community Trail, a popular walking, cycling and running path, has been named in her honor.
Malden always beams with pride and excitement as a community when one of its own is recognized on a national level for excellence and achievement. It is not a common occurrence, but when it does happen, the Malden community cherishes those moments.
One Malden native stands alone in local lore, however, as she attained heights of achievement that have never been matched by a Malden resident. Louise May Stokes Fraser was not only a national success story in the early to mid-1930s, but also drew international acclaim in the arena of track and field.
Malden Mayor Gary Christenson honored her memory once again in early May of 2020, when he announced the city was dedicating, in her name, a running, walking and cycling Loop connecting trails that encircle the Malden River. The Loop was also dedicated in the name of the late Malden Court Clerk-Magistrate Joseph Croken, a longtime biking enthusiast before his sudden passing in 2007.
Stokes Fraser burst onto the international stage at the age of just 18, when she tied a world record in the standing broad jump event as a member of a women’s track and field club in December 1931, just a few months after her senior year at Malden High School.
First-ever Malden resident & first Black woman selected for U.S. Olympics
Just a few months after that, she brought further international claim to her hometown when she became the first (and only) Malden resident, man or woman, ever to be named to a U.S. Olympic Team, when she was selected as a sprinter for the 1932 Olympic Games, which that year were being hosted in Los Angeles, Calif. Stokes Fraser also made history as she and teammate Tidye Pickett, an exceptional athlete from Chicago, Ill., were the first two Black women to be selected as U.S. Olympians that year.
Sadly, neither Stokes Fraser nor Pickett were able to compete and represent their country in the 1932 Olympic Games – replaced at the last minute in the 4 x 100 relay event. Since the two women had appeared to have earned the right to a spot on that relay team due to their performances at pre-Olympics time trials and the fact their 11th hour replacements were white women, race has been cited by a number of historians as being a factor in their being denied a spot to compete in any official Olympics events in 1932.
Both women again were picked to compete in the 1936 Olympics, this time the historic Games being held in Berlin, the heart of Nazi Germany. These games were forevermore known as the “Jesse Owens” Olympics, due to Owens, an African-American on the men’s team, winning four Gold Medals. Once again, Stokes Fraser did not get an opportunity to compete – left off the relay team once again.
Pickett did go on to achieve notoriety as the first African-American woman in history to compete for the U.S. Olympic Team, though an injury ended her quest for a medal in the semifinals of the 100 meter sprint.
Though, by the numbers, Stokes Fraser did not excel in the pre-competition times as she had four years earlier, again it appeared she had earned a spot in the 4 x 100 relay with the better performances. But again, some sports historians claim racism was ultimately a factor in her being denied a chance to run.
Louise Mae Stokes Fraser grew up in Malden and excelled in all athletics in her formative years, despite the fact that women’s participation in sports competition was extremely limited both by opportunity and public opinion. Added to the limitations was the fact that in many parts of the United States segregation according to race was prevalent and in effect in many ways and on a number of levels.
A flat out paucity of available opportunities for would-be women athletes in both team and individual sports was indeed one major barrier. Add to that the belief in many circles that athletic competition was innately wrong, physically and mentally, for women to participate in. From the late 19th century right up until the 1940s, prominent scientific minds spoke against women competing in athletics, citing adverse effects anywhere from the child-bearing process to mental instability.
Who was Louise Mae Stokes Fraser?
Louise May Stokes grew up near Malden’s downtown and developed a love of running and sports in general at a young age. According to her son, Wilfred Fraser Jr., she beat any girls in town easily, so she began racing neighborhood boys on the B&M Railroad tracks that ran along the city behind Malden Square, now the site of the Northern Strand Community Trail/Bike Path.
She went on to become a student at the then brand-new Beebe Junior High School on Pleasant Street in the late 1920s, before moving on to Malden High School. It was there that Louise Mae began to excel athletically. She starred on the fledgling Beebe girls’ basketball team, which was a very rudimentary, six-on-six game, with only one dribble allowed per player at a time and only three players allowed over halfcourt of the small court surface at a time. These girls’ basketball rules remained essentially the same for 50 years, into the 1970s.
She caught the eye of a local track enthusiast and organizer, William H. Quaine, who ran the Onterora Club, a private track and field club in the area. Quaine quickly took an interest in Stokes Fraser and began to guide her career, entering her in races and events around the region. This coincided with her athletic participation at Malden High School, where she was a member of the Class of 1931 who competed in basketball and girls’ track and field. She established MHS school records in nearly every event offered and balanced her time by singing in the choir at Eastern Avenue Baptist Church.
‘The Malden Meteor’ sets a World Record in 1931
In the spring of her senior year, at Quaine’s urging, she entered the Boston-based Women’s Track Championships held in the Fens near Fenway Park and adjacent to where Northeastern University is now located. Stokes Fraser wowed the large crowd in attendance by winning four events and setting a New England record in the 100 meter sprint with a time of 12.9 seconds.
Most remarkably, she also tied the World Record in the standing broad jump, with a mark of 8 feet-5 3/4 inches. She was awarded the James Michael Curley Mayor’s Cup as the event’s Most Outstanding Performer. Furthermore, as news of her world record began to spread, almost immediately, national attention began to come Stokes Fraser’s way.
A bright future appeared to be looming for the young teen girl who many had started to call “The Malden Meteor.”
Part Two of a two-part series on Louise Mae Stokes Fraser, “The Malden Meteor,” will appear in next Friday’s Malden Advocate.