“By mail and telephone we get many strange questions about sports and sportsmen. A man called here a few days ago wanting to know what kind of after-shave lotion the big-game hunters on our staff prefer. We were able to answer that one pretty easily. The only big-game hunter on our staff is Writer Virginia Kraft, and she doesn’t use the stuff. She does occasionally carry Chanel No. 5 on hunts...”

Letter from the Publisher
Sports Illustrated
February 22, 1965

A streak of fiery pink brightened the horizon, lighting up a line of clouds that towered like smokestacks over the bayou. It was 5:30 a.m. on a Monday in early June, and although the full moon had not yet set, the marina in the tiny outpost of Venice, Louisiana, was already awake. A pickup truck backed a boat to the edge of the water alongside a fleet of vessels lining an L-shaped dock. The smell of gas infused the salty air while captains filled tanks for a nine-hour day on the water. And from every direction arrived anglers — all of them women.

It was tournament day, the first of a three-day event hosted by the International Women’s Fishing Association (IWFA). Competitors, many of them longtime friends and all carrying fishing rods, greeted each other with exuberant hugs, cheek kisses, and selfies in front of the sunrise. They scanned the dock for the guides and partners they had been paired with for the day. Mary Weingart, a 65-year-old competitor from North Carolina, had risen at 4:30 a.m., eaten an egg-and-sausage biscuit with grits, and gulped a cup of coffee. Now she was out by the dock, where she couldn’t find her guide, Jack. The night before they had agreed on a 5:30 meetup. “If you tell me to be here at 5:30,” she grumbled, “I’m here at 5:30.”

An all-women’s fishing tournament is nothing new in 2023, but the concept was revolutionary back in 1955, when a group of women decided to leave their husbands at home and start the IWFA — a history I knew about because of Virginia Kraft. In 1960, Kraft first wrote about the IWFA for Sports Illustrated (SI), making her — at the time and for a long time after — one of the only women writing the kinds of in-depth stories the magazine became known for.

Over a 26-year career at SI, Kraft wrote deeply reported and immersive features, just like her male colleagues. All the while, she quietly racked up an unrivaled collection of firsts. She was the first woman to race in a major dogsled event in Alaska, the first woman and first foreign journalist to hunt with General Francisco Franco of Spain, and likely the only mother of four to traverse six continents to take down all of the Big Five trophy animals. Yet despite the enduring reputation enjoyed by her male contemporaries at SI — including George Plimpton, Frank Deford, and Roy Blount Jr. — her work has since faded into obscurity.


Read the full story here.