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Folktales: Ahead of Her Time

Violet Bidwill was the first female owner in the NFL, winning a title in first year


As the Cardinals celebrate Women's History Month, the latest installment of the Folktales series features Violet Bidwill, the first female owner in the NFL. Check out the latest Folktales video episode "Ahead Of Her Time" soon on the Cardinals' YouTube channel.

Violet Bidwill wasn't your typical grandmother, baking cookies and reading a bedtime story at night.

As the first female owner in NFL history, she was one of one.

"I remember sitting at our dinner table, growing up in St. Louis, hearing about Violet and what a dynamic leader she was. She was truly a trailblazer," owner Michael Bidwill said. "She did a great job. She won a championship and was also in the championship the next year in 1948. We're very proud of her."

Michael never had the chance to meet his grandmother, but he could recall first hearing stories about her when he was young.

Violet was somebody that was "a great business leader. She was shrewd. She was tough. She could hold her own."

She needed all of those traits after she took over for husband Charles Bidwill following his death in early 1947. It was unusual to see a woman in the room with other NFL owners, largely because the league was all male.

Some didn't even think she'd last in the role.

Violet Bidwill (right) celebrates with star halfback Elmer Angsman (left) and her son Bill Bidwill after the Cardinals won the 1947 NFL championship.
Violet Bidwill (right) celebrates with star halfback Elmer Angsman (left) and her son Bill Bidwill after the Cardinals won the 1947 NFL championship.

"I recall a column from I think a newspaper in Indiana, which predicted the Cardinals would be sold fairly quickly, because 'the NFL has no place for a woman,'" said Joe Ziemba, an award-winning author who has written multiple books about the Chicago Cardinals. "That's what she was up against. She was an elegant woman, a bit shy, loved to dress well. She loved to wear her minks to the league meetings but did not back away from anyone."

It was her style as an owner that really stood out to those within the league. She was heavily involved with the day-to-day operation of the team, attended practices, all while filling every need that the team had following World War II.

Under her leadership, the team didn't fall apart following Charles' passing. Instead, she helped orchestrate a championship organization, on and off the field.

The Cardinals beat the Eagles, 7-0, just months after Violet took over the team. The Cardinals returned to the title game a year later as well. 

"She jumped in and really became a very visible part of the management of the team and of course, took her place at the table with the owners for the National Football League," Ziemba said. "She was very active in making sure the players were ready and that they had what they needed. At the time, the Cardinals were probably the best traveled team."

With March being Women's History Month, Violet Bidwill's impact over her 15-year tenure remains a part of the 2024 Cardinals. Last year, when Arizona hosted Super Bowl 57, the Pro Football Hall of Fame celebrated Violet's leadership by gifting the Bidwill family with a painting of their one-of-a-kind grandmother.

The NFL started out as a family business. For the Bidwills, centered around their familial heritage, it remains that.

"Violet was truly a remarkable woman," Michael said. "She was a big sports fan herself, but to step into that role and carry on my grandfather's legacy, but also create her own legacy was really remarkable."