Editor’s note: While the United States Figure Skating Association officially formed in April of 1921, attempts were made much earlier to create a governing body. Figure skating historian James R. Hines writes in his book titled Figure Skating: A History about three such organizations that were predecessors to the United States Figure Skating Association. Each experienced a level of success and helped to create and establish standards that were eventually adopted by the association’s founding fathers.
By James R. Hines
(abridged from Figure Skating: A History)
The number of skating clubs in the United States and Canada increased steadily after 1860. Unlike their counterparts in England, where members viewed skating as a gentlemen’s sport, in America effort was made to attract persons of all social and economic levels, and modest membership fees allowed some clubs to become quite large.
As a result, the number of inter-club competitions increased, creating the need for a governing body. In 1868, a call was issued for delegates from throughout the United States and Canada to establish rules for figure skating. A meeting was held in February of that year in Allegheny City, Pennsylvania, where the American Skating Congress (ASC) was established.
A constitution and bylaws were adopted as was a program of figures, which included basic edges, serpentines, figure eights, loops, ringlets and grapevines. At its first sponsored competition, held that season, a gold and diamond medal was awarded. The ASC survived for at least three seasons.
A congress was held in 1871 in New York City where delegates from the skating clubs throughout the United States and Canada attended. It is not known how long the ASC continued, but it appears to have been a healthy organization on its third anniversary. Additional annual or triennial meetings may have been held in other cities because America’s next known governing body, the National Skating Association (NSA), was 15 years in the future.
Although the actual date of its organizational meeting is unknown, the NSA, which governed both speed skating and figure skating, held its first competition in Hoboken, New Jersey, in February 1886. Gold, silver and bronze medals were to be awarded in five speed events and in figure skating, but due to poor ice, the closing figure skating event had to be canceled.
Proof of amateur status was required to enter that first competition, and by the next season, “amateur” was added to the organization’s name, an indication of the perplexing problem of amateur versus professional status that occurred primarily in speed skating. The renamed National Amateur Skating Association (NASA) took amateur status seriously and enforced it.
Ice conditions were ideal for the NASA’s competition in 1887. Figure skating was an evening event held at the Hoboken Ice Rink, which was lighted with Chinese lanterns and electric lights. A local brass band provided music. The competition lasted until midnight as each contestant skated 25 figures.
The specific figures skated are unknown, but those required in a similar Canadian competition were published in The New York Times: “The figure skating will consist in addition to specialties, of plain skating, forward and backward; the outside and inside edge, both ways; threes, inside and outside forward to inside and outside backward, and the reverse; rocking turns on the same principle; spins, outside and inside, forward and backward, on flat of skates and crossfoot and pyramid; plain eight, four styles; double eight in the same fashion; eight with loops and threes; grapevine, single and double; scissors; Philadelphia single and double; crosscut or anvil, outside and inside, forward and reverse; pivot figures and locomotive steps.”
In addition, skaters could include up to 10 specialties, but they had to be entirely different from the required figures. Points were awarded for each figure, weighted according to difficulty.
The NASA served an important role in the history of American figure skating, overseeing competitions in the United States for two decades until its demise in 1905. Fortunately, its now well-established championships continued until 1909 under the auspices of the New York Skating Club. The reason for the NASA’s demise is not clear, but its function needed to be filled.
To meet that need, the International Skating Union of America (ISUofA), which included five regional organizations — two from Canada and three from the United States — was founded in 1907, just two years after the NASA folded.
Although its competitions were open to skaters from both countries, it was the direct predecessor of the United States Figure Skating Association. In 14 years, the ISUofA sponsored just four competitions, one before and three after World War I, all of which were held in the United States.
They were notable, as skaters who would succeed internationally in the postwar-era competed in them. Two American ladies deserve special mention. At three of the four competitions, the senior ladies champion was Theresa Weld (Blanchard), who later won America’s first Olympic medal in figure skating, bronze in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1920. The junior ladies champion in 1921 was Beatrix Loughran, who won the silver medal at the Winter Games in Charmonix, France, in 1924 and the bronze medal at the World Championships that same year.
The ISUofA held its last figure skating championships in February, 1921. Two weeks earlier, a proposal had been submitted by Paul Armitage, the chairman of its figure skating committee, calling for figure skating in America to be governed by a United States Figure Skating Association (USFSA) with sole authority for that branch of the sport. The proposal was adopted unanimously, and seven clubs became charter members. All but one are still members today.
Philadelphia Skating Club & Humane Society — 1849
New York Skating Club (The Skating Club of New York) — 1863
The Skating Club of Boston — 1912
Beaver Dam Winter Sports Club (Mill Neck, New York) — 1916
Chicago Figure Skating Club — 1921
Twin City Figure Skating Club (Figure Skating Club of Minneapolis) — 1921
Sno Birds of Lake Placid, New York — 1921 (defunct)
This year, U.S. Figure Skating is celebrating its centennial anniversary as it recognizes those members, clubs and fans who have given so much to U.S. Figure Skating over the past 100 years. Follow along for more stories and content like this on the Centennial Celebration section of our website.