A Bit of Women’s Golf History!

Following is an interesting historical article by Alice Kulka, member of the Rules Committee for the Women’s Golf Association of Northern California (WGANC) and also of Sequoyah Country Club in Oakland. The article first appeared in WGANC’s Spring 2010 newsletter.

WGANC’s First President, 1927–1931

I was thumbing through my Green Book, looking for an email address, when I realized that the first president listed for WGANC was Mrs. William E. Colby, (1927-1931). For years I have been a Sierra Club volunteer backpack leader, and I now volunteer for the WGANC Rules Committee. WGANC’s Mrs. Colby was the wife of William Edward Colby, who was one of the earliest presidents and officers of the Sierra Club. He was active in the Club for sixty years. Beginning in 1900, Colby, along with John Muir and Joseph LeConte, brought the Sierra Club into its politically powerful position as a defender of the nation’s public lands. I have had great appreciation for William Colby’s contribution to the Club. Among other things, he was the first to organize Sierra Club “outings,” or camping trips, to the mountains of Yosemite and other Sierra Nevada National Parks. This is something the Sierra Club continues to do today, with the help of volunteer leaders. Colby died in 1964, much honored for his Sierra Club work, and respected for his career as a mining rights attorney.

Already knowing a great deal about William Colby, I now wondered about our Mrs. William Colby, nee Rachel Vrooman. She was her husband’s intellectual equal in every way, plus she was a golfer. Her father, Henry Vrooman, an influential California attorney, was also a State Senator representing Alameda County until his death in 1889. Rachel followed her father into law, graduating first from UC Berkeley in 1895, and then graduating with honors from Hastings Law School in 1898. By then she had met William Colby, also a law student. They were married, but not until Rachel was admitted to practice before the Supreme Court of the United States. The New York Times headline in May 1898 was “Society Woman a Lawyer.”

Rachel and William built a home in Berkeley in 1905, engaging the architect Julia Morgan to design their house at the corner of Channing Way and Warring. Today, the Colby home is a fraternity house. While she was raising her two sons, Rachel helped her husband with his mining law practice, taught part-time at Oakland High School and the UC Extension, and was an executive officer of numerous state-wide women’s organizations. (Is she sounding like every over-qualified WGANC Director you’ve ever met?)

An article in the Berkeley Daily Gazette in October 1929 describes her as “An Outstanding Berkeley Woman” who is a lawyer and a housewife, and also a talented golfer. By this time our Mrs. William E. Colby, through her membership at two country clubs (she and her husband belonged to Diablo CC and Olympic CC), had met the famous Helen Lengfeld, who organized the Women’s Golf Association of Northern California in 1927. Rachel, with her legal background, and her specialty interest in parliamentary procedure, was the ideal choice for president of this new organization dedicated to fostering golf for women. Helen’s talent for organizing women’s tournaments and Rachel’s ability to structure an organization guaranteed WGANC’s enduring success in providing great golf for women. Rachel remained as WGANC’s president from 1927-1931. Helen Lengfeld’s family-written biography states that Rachel only gave it up because she had to help William with his Sierra Club work.

Rachel Colby (I will always think of her as Mrs. William E. Colby, first on the list of WGANC presidents in the Green Book) died in 1949. I have known for years that the beautiful Rae Lakes in the Southern Sierra were named for William Colby’s wife, but I never made that golf–Sierra Club connection until now. My Sierra Club hiker friends laugh at me for playing golf (pastime of fat old men wearing funny pants riding in buggies), but if they only knew that the wife of William Edward Colby, second only to John Muir in the pantheon of Sierra Club gods, was a golfer.

Written by Alice Kulka, WGANC Rules Committee.

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