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Violet Bidwill's Imprint Remains With Cardinals

First female NFL owner remembered during Women's History Month

Violet Bidwill (center) with her sons Charles "Stormy" (left) and Bill in 1951.
Violet Bidwill (center) with her sons Charles "Stormy" (left) and Bill in 1951.

Violet Bidwill had been owner of the Cardinals for only a few months when she accompanied the team to training camp in Waukesha, Wisconsin in August, 1947.

During one practice, she looked out over the team, finally settling in with a post-World War II roster.

"I think all the teams in the league are good this year," Bidwill told the Waukesha Freeman newspaper. "There seems to be better material to work with.

"This year, we have scheduled seven home games and I think the men we have will draw crowds."

Bidwill's husband, Charles Sr., had passed away in April, leaving Violet – mother of Charles Jr. (better known as Stormy) and Bill – as the first female owner in NFL history. And she turned out to be correct in her assessment. The Cardinals ultimately won the NFL championship by season's end, leaving her in tears after the game wishing her late husband had been alive to see it, and cementing her role as ownership trailblazer.

In a league that has only had a handful of female owners, remembering Violet Bidwill's legacy during Women's History Month is fitting.

"She was a wonderful person and was in a tough situation with losing her husband at a young age," Violet's grandson, current Cardinals owner Michael Bidwill, said. "She decided she would take over the family businesses."

Cardinals owner Violet Bidwill (right) gets a hug from son Bill Bidwill and congratulations from halfback Elmer Angsman after the Cardinals beat the Eagles in the 1947 NFL championship.
Cardinals owner Violet Bidwill (right) gets a hug from son Bill Bidwill and congratulations from halfback Elmer Angsman after the Cardinals beat the Eagles in the 1947 NFL championship.

Violet Bidwill ran the Cardinals – with Stormy and Bill later being made part of the team's Board of Directors – until her death in 1962 at the age of 62.

Michael Bidwill said he has talked with Bengals owner Mike Brown, whose father Paul owned the Cleveland Browns when Violet ran the Cardinals. Mike Brown recalled his father saying Violet was a "shrewd businesswoman" and well-respected.

"She didn't suffer fools, and she was right there in the meetings with the rest of the owners and held her own," said Michael Bidwill, who was born after his grandmother's death.

Violet Bidwill eventually engineered the franchise's move from Chicago to St. Louis in 1960.

Stormy Bidwill was only 23 when his mother elevated him to team president. Young brother Bill was 19 when he was named a team vice president at the same time in 1951. When Violet Bidwill passed in 1962, the brothers took over both the Cardinals and other family businesses. Eventually, Bill Bidwill took over the team when he bought out his brother's share in 1972.

"She shaped my father's life in a very meaningful way," Michael said of his late father. "He grew up with a woman owner of the team and he didn't look at women any differently than men and he didn't look at color of skin or diversity, equity, or inclusion as anything besides normal. He was way ahead of his time.

"I think he was shaped by seeing a woman run a business in an exclusively male-run industry, except for her. He had a perspective for seeing people with their merit. And his imprint on me was clear and I've continued that legacy, but it all started with Violet."

Michael Bidwill noted the number of women that now work in crucial roles across the businesses the Bidwill family runs. Lisa Manning, the team's senior vice president of marketing, oversees much of the daily operations for the Cardinals.

"We want to be a leader in this space, but also recognizing people based on their merit, skills and performance," Michael Bidwill said. "Lisa has helped navigate us through a lot of things. I know if Violet were alive, she'd be proud of Lisa Manning and so many other women have important roles in the organization.

"There is a lot of family pride around Violet Bidwill. Her legacy I think continues to live on with us."

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