While many aspects remain in mystery, Kathleen Howard’s advocacy for women’s hockey is unquestionable. Her abilities and circumstances paved a way for to become the United States first female hockey coach.
A Winnipeg native, she was born Kathleen Cronn or Crown in 1874. Prior to her marriage, she taught ice skating and participated in various Winnipeg Carnivals*. On May 13, 1893, she married Tom Howard, which started the “first family” of hockey. The family was complete with the birth of their two boys, Tom Jr. and John “Jack”. When they moved to Brooklyn in 1900, she brought hockey with her, and specifically for women.
Kathleen’s advocacy sprang to life in 1917 with the pronouncement, “Hockey for Women is not a Novelty.” While women played hockey in the United States during the “teens”, she noted that New York City women seemed to have forgotten about hockey. She also penned an article on women’s hockey for Spalding’s Official Ice Hockey Guide 1917, which Tom Howard edited.
She coached St. Nick’s women’s teams for at least two seasons, 1916-17 and 1917-18. In the 1916-1917 season, she took over for her husband in December, 1916. In 1918, she arranged a charity hockey match with Boston to help the employees after the Brooklyn Ice Palace was ordered closed. Not to say that women’s hockey died after 1918. As a matter of fact, women’s hockey enjoyed great success through the 1920s and 1930s. However, Kathleen seems to drop out of the news after 1918.
Some of this may be due to imperfect records and inconsistent reporting. For example, Manitoba lists three birth certificates for two boys, 2 for Thomas and 1 for John. Each certificate has a different name including an incorrect last name, Cronner. The Winnipeg Tribune constantly reports her last name as “Cronn” whereas government records lists “Crown”. After getting married, she is almost exclusively referred to as “Mrs. Tom Howard” or a variation thereof. As a result, a shroud of mystery wraps Kathleen. In reality, the biggest reason is due to what happened to Jack in 1919.
Somewhere around 1927, She and Tom move to California to live with their son, Tom Jr. She outlived her husband, who dies in November 1945. However, her own death is as ellusive as her legacy.
Her greatest feat wasn’t getting married to a star hockey player and coach. It wasn’t raising two upcoming stars of the amateur hockey world. Her greatest feat was being the first woman to coach hockey in the United States, and quite possibly Canada, too. Of course, Kathleen may disagree and say that seeing women in professional hockey was her greatest legacy.
*Note: Carnival events included hockey, ice skating, curling, and dressing up. Kathleen was noted for her costumes in 1891 (gypsy queen) and 1892 (faerie).