FAMOUS SPORTSWOMEN OF HISTORY: ANNIE OAKLEY
As March comes to a close, we’d be remiss if we didn’t spend some time discussing the importance of National Women’s History Month. During March, we honor the generations of women who have paved the way for their gender (and for that matter, society in general) through their accomplishments. First established in 1987 by Congress, it was an expansion of National Women’s History Week, which began during President Ronald Reagan’s administration in 1981.
There are plenty of examples we could pick from to illustrate female impact on society in the sporting world, but we’d like to focus on one individual who was perhaps one of the most talented markswomen of her time and became a major force in change during her time in the spotlight.
Annie Oakley was born in 1860 in Darke County, Ohio. Her family faced a great deal of hardship in her childhood. Her father and stepfather both died during her this time, and thus she was forced to contribute to her family’s well-being by learning to hunt game for a local store. She became quite skilled at such a young age.
With this new talent at her disposal, Annie was able to join Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show in 1885 along with her husband Frank Butler. They toured with the show for over 15 years, with Annie as one of the primary attractions.
Annie Oakley became famous for her gun tricks. Earlier in her life, she had met the great Native American leader Sitting Bull, and he had been so impressed with her that he gave her the name of Little Sure Shot. She certainly lived up to her title, performing such skills as shooting the ends off of cigarettes and nailing playing cards thrown into the air.
As her reputation grew, she found her audience becoming more distinguished. Notable prominent heads such as Queen Victoria of the United Kingdom, King Umberto I of Italy, and Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany requested her presence for shows.
However, she is not only known for her showmanship. She also had a great deal of courage. In 1898, Annie wrote a letter to President William McKinley offering her services as a sharpshooter in the Spanish-American War. Although she was declined, this offer would help to grow her legend. She did help out the cause in her own way by raising money for the Red Cross with exhibitions.
Unfortunately, Annie Oakley’s career did not last as long as she would have hoped. In 1901, a train accident left her diminished. She did continue performing through acting years after she left the Buffalo Bill Show.
Besides her shooting skills, her legend also flourished through her work in teaching thousands of young women how to use guns. She believed it was essential knowledge for defense, providing food, and exercise.
Annie Oakley’s legacy lives on through the tales of her exploits. One such group that ensures this is always the case is the Annie Oakley Foundation, whose mission is to provide accurate information and provide educational materials about her life to schools, libraries, and museums. She is also immortalized in the 1946 musical Annie Get Your Gun, as well as multiple films and dozens of books.
Her influence even today makes her an excellent example of the impact of women in history. Some parting words from Annie Oakley herself on perseverance: