Louise Stokes was one of the first African American women to qualify for an olympic team in track and field.
Stokes was born in Malden, Massachusetts in 1913, and was the oldest of six children to William, a gardener, and Mary Wesley Stokes, a domestic.
Stokes began running while she was a student at the Beebe Junior High School in Malden. She was so fast that her basketball teammates suggested that she join the Onterora Track Club, sponsored by William H. Quaine, a postal worker, former athlete, and the park commissioner of Malden. A couple years after, Louise began to win the sprints and jumping events.
While a junior in Malden High School in 1931, Stokes won the James Michael Curley Cup for the best women’s performance at the Mayor’s Day track meet, including a New England record 12.6 seconds in the 100-meter dash.
At the 1932 United States Olympic Trials, competed in the 100 meters, where she placed third, earning her a spot in the 4 × 100 meter relay pool, making her and Tidye Pickett the first African-American Women to be selected for the Olympics, although coach George Vreeland left them out at the final relay lineup.
Both Stokes and Pickett served as the first two African-American women to qualify for an Olympic team. However, Coach George Vreeland selected only white women for the final relay team.
Furthermore, when the Olympic team stopped in Denver on the way to Los Angeles, Stokes and Pickett were given a room separate from the rest of the team near a service area on an upper floor and were served dinner in their rooms rather than at the banquet for the team. They sat and watched while the American women set a world record in the 400-meter relay and won the gold medal.
She went to the 1936 United States Olympic Trials, where she competed in the 100 meters, winning both her heat and her semi-final. She was leading the final until a costly error pushed her back to fifth. At the U.S. trials for the 1936 Olympics in Berlin, she placed fifth in the 100 meters but once again made the team as a member of the 400-meter relay. The residents of Malden were so proud of her that they paid $680 to send her to Berlin.
Once in Berlin, Germany, however, she received the same treatment as in 1932. Upon arriving at the track, Louise was stunned to learn that she had been replaced with a white runner. She again sat in the stands and watched her team with the gold medal. Despite the fact that she was not selected to compete in the finals, the town of Malden treated her as a hero with a welcome home parade. In 1941, she founded the Colored Women’s Bowling League, and for the next three decades won many awards. After retiring from sports, Stokes worked as a clerk for the Massachusetts Louise Mae Stokes died on March 25, 1978.