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How two local women, one black and one white, crossed paths at the 1932 Olympics

The Louise Mae Stokes Fraser memorial at Malden High School. (Steve Freker)

They grew up just a few miles apart, one in Malden and the other in Medford. Little did they know that a remarkable journey would take them all the way to the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.

Louise Mae Stokes Fraser had just finished her senior year at Malden High School, while her counterpart Mary Carew, had just graduated from Medford High School. Both were considered two of the fastest high school sprinters in the nation.

Two months after the local caps and gowns, a whirlwind of travel took the two first to Northwestern University at the Olympic Trials and then to the 1932 Olympics in California.

Stokes Fraser and Tidye Pickett, a sprinter and hurdler from Chicago, were the first two African-American women picked for an Olympic team. But despite practicing with the other starters, both women were left off the final U.S. 4X400 meter relay team that ultimately won gold at the games.

Carew and another white woman ran in their places.

Both Stokes Fraser and Carew were honored on their return from the Olympics by their respective hometowns, Carew as a Gold Medalist and Stokes Fraser as Malden’s first and only Olympian.

Four years later, Stokes Fraser trained for and was selected for the 1936 U.S. Olympics Team that competed in Berlin. But once again, she was an 11th-hour scratch in the 4X400 meter relay and replaced by another white team member.

While Stokes Fraser was again denied the chance to compete, Pickett made history when she ran in the 80 meter hurdles, making her the first African-American woman to compete as a U.S. Olympian. Unfortunately, she was injured in the semifinals and could not continue.

Stokes Fraser intended on trying for a third time, at age of 26, to compete in the 1940 Olympics, but the games were never played because of the onset of World War II.

Stokes Fraser, who died in 1978 at 65, went on to become a nationally known professional bowler and a volunteer track and field coach in Malden. She was a charter member of the Malden Golden Tornado Hall of Fame. In 1980, the former fieldhouse at Roosevelt Park on Salem Street was named in her honor. In 1987, a memorial was erected in the courtyard of her hometown high school as part of the extensive renovations completed there.

Carew, who died in 2002 at 88, continued her athletic pursuits on a different level, becoming an official at national track events, then serving as both secretary of the New England Olympians alumni group and chairwoman for women’s track and field for the New England Amateur Athletic Union.

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