Archives: Lay That Skillet Down, Babe!

From the July 1947 American Rifleman ... The hand that SETS the table can RULE the pistol range ... Meet National Ladies Pistol Champ Alice Matthews.

by posted on June 3, 2020
American Rifleman 1947 Cover
National Ladies Pistol Champ Alice Matthews, American Rifleman cover, July 1947

This article first appeared in the July 1947 American Rifleman.

Listen gals ... this is for you. It's about a women's sports champion who can't power a golf ball 250 yards like Babe Didrikson, who can't swim the 880 like Ann Curtis, and who probably couldn't get over a high hurdle with a step stool.

It's about a young wife, age twenty-nine to be exact, very pretty and very feminine. Like most of the other 30,000,000 wives in the country she can fix breakfast for her husband in the morning, do the laundry, keep house and wait dinner for him in the evening. She can wear nice clothes, play charming hostess at a party and earn some money on her own as a public stenographer. But in her spare time she loads ammunition and shoots well enough to be the National Women's Pistol Champion!

We're talking, of course, about Alice Matthews, of Broomall, Pennsylvania, who one month from now will be defending her title at Camp Perry, Ohio. She will match her skill against a probable maximum of twenty other feminine handgun artists … and therein lies the story.

Alice thinks there ought to be more. She's asking for it ... for more competition.

"I don't mean to say that the girls who are shooting today aren't competition. They are," moans Alice. "It's just that there aren't enough of them. Someone has got to do something to interest more women in the shooting game. Otherwise the women who are shooting now are going to drop out for lack of competition in their field and for lack of the companionship of other women."

The facts supporting Mrs. Matthews are these: The NRA Pistol Classification Book contains the names of some eighty women. That's eighty women pistol competitors of varying degrees of enthusiasm throughout the country, or about one gal to every forty or fifty males. Spread that number among the more than 100 registered pistol tournaments held in a year's time and you see how a girl could feel as out of place as the Pope at a Kremlin banquet.

"It's not unusual for me to travel to a match with George (her husband) and find that I'm the only woman entered. If not, there probably won't be more than one or two others unless it's a big tournament. Why, last year at the Nationals when I won the Championship there were only twelve women entered in the aggregate – counting me."

When she talks of women quitting the handgun game for lack of competition and companionship, Alice isn't merely passing secondhand judgment. If it weren't for the fact that her husband is such an enthusiastic pistolman, the Champ, strangely enough, probably would toss up the game and confine her week-end revelments to trap shooting, boating or art – diversions with which she has had some experience. She would, that is, unless there comes a sudden change in the pistol sport as far as feminine interest is concerned. 

"As a matter of fact," she adds, "I shoot trap once in a while now, locally around Broomall, and there are always a lot more women around, and shooting, at those matches."

Mrs. M. is serious but she can't quite figure out why more of the fair sex do not flock to the pistol firing lines. Perhaps it can be explained simply as an aversion to pistols and revolvers by some of our womenfolk, who would as soon play with a coiled rattlesnake ... or it may possibly be the mistaken belief that pistol shooting calls for special physical capabilities, an engineering degree and a liberal sprinkling of hocus pocus. If such is the case then Champion Alice must punch out her scores with a sharp lead pencil, for she has none of those.

The tall, slender brunette, who could do quite a job as missionary for the sport, is convinced that here is a game that women can play. The only physical requirements she will list are a reasonably normal set of nerves and the patience to practice; the only background is about six easy lessons spent soaking up the fundamentals; the only equipment is a couple of guns and a case to carry them in … oh, yes, and a hairnet to keep the "permanent" permanent when the wind is up.

"That's the beauty of the pistol game in contrast to rifle shooting from a woman's viewpoint – the requirements are so few especially as far as dress is concerned," says the gal who can add more glamour to a firing line than fifty possibles. "We can wear skirts or shorts or slacks – whatever we want to – and we don't have to worry about lying down on the ground to do our shooting either. Another thing, handguns packed away in a shooting kit or an overnight bag are much more convenient and much less embarrassing to carry around in trains and hotel lobbies than are rifles."

But there's one thing Alice is convinced of ... tournament managers do nothing but scare the gals away by trying to give them too much ­– like scheduling events exclusively for women on a tournament program.

"I don't mean events where they have special women's prizes. They're all right. I'm talking about events like the one they had at Washington, D. C., last year when they put all the women up on the line at the same time in a special match. The men stood around behind the line and had a great time looking at the girls' legs and making them all feel mighty uncomfortable," protests Alice, who really shouldn't feel uncomfortable about her own pins. "The girls don't want any special treatment that makes them conspicuous. I'd say that outside of providing a few women's prizes, tournament managers should treat us just like any other shooter."

Alice actually got into the shooting game to keep from becoming a week-end widow, but it was only after her husband gave up the small-bore game and took to the handguns. Rifle shooting, she says, didn't exactly appeal to her because of the equipment involved.

"We had been married a couple of years and George was doing all the serious shooting for the Matthews family, and then he began to concentrate on the pistol. I went to the club with him once in a while in the evenings but I told him I wouldn't get into the game seriously until I had a gun of my own," Alice recalls. "Well, one night he came in, dropped a package beside me on the bed and told me to go to it. In it was my first gun . . . a .22 Woodsman, standard barrel. So, I became a pistol shooter."

That was in 1942, just five years ago, so there can be no complaint about her progress. In addition to her national title Alice has amassed an impressive collection of trophies, medals and other hardware from matches all over the country, and they all but cover available wall space of the attractive rumpus room in the Matthews' neat, suburban Philadelphia home. Translated into cold figures the record is just as impressive. Alice's average is a respectable 90.09 – high Expert – and just a shade below her husband's.

To credit such success to anything except the sound application of basic rules – and practice – is impossible. Alice learned her fundamentals from friend husband. Apparently it was a lesson well taught. But as far as practice is concerned, it comes a little harder, and a little longer.

"I keep a .38 revolver, unloaded, up on the bedroom chest," explains Mrs. Matthews who, incidentally, has no children. "And I'm always grabbing at it to squeeze off a few 'dry' shots while doing my housework. That's where most of my practice comes in, especially on week days. Once in a while we do some shooting out at West Chester or Media near here and on week ends we often go out to a farm not far away for some real shooting practice.

"That's a lot of fun. George and I and a couple of others from our club will go out and shoot little informal handicap matches for a nickel or a dime ... and it's really good practice."

Both George and Alice do most of their practicing with their .22's because, they feel, the small-caliber gun allows them to concentrate more on the fundamentals. Besides, it is a lot more economical and, since they both fire .38 and .45 handloads in practice and in competition, it saves work.

The woman's titleholder, incidentally, does all her own reloading.

"It all dates back to before the war when I was firing in a big ladies' event at Passaic, New Jersey," she explains. "It looked like I was going to win when, on one of my last shots, came that awful 'pffft.' George had loaded all the ammunition up to that time and had simply missed the powder charge in that one. Well, he felt a lot worse about it than I did, I guess, but anyway we decided then and there that I was going to learn how to 'roll my own.' 

"That's one thing we ought to get across to the girls ... that you don't have to be a ballistics expert to shoot, any more than you have to be a mechanic to drive a car. It's the same way with reloading. All I had to learn was a few simple mechanical operations since we already had the tools, and now I'm loading all my ammo, except the .22's of course."

Big George Matthews, who stands six feet four and weighs well over 200 pounds, has fitted the small spare bedroom into a workshop and there, in addition to his reloading, does a little stock work and general tinkering for his own amazement. He has the background, having worked as a toolmaker before the war. Serving in the Navy during the war, Matthews moved fast and was discharged as a Commander after having served at Exeter, England, for more than a year and a half as Chief Procurement Engine Supply Officer. So enthusiastic did he become over work with the larger machinery that after his discharge he hooked up with a company dealing in construction equipment.

Nowadays a good part of his time is spent on the road in the Pennsylvania-Delaware-Maryland area and on many of those trips he takes his wife –and a couple of varmint rifles – along. Alice is an enthusiastic varminter and the talent she shows in handling the longer-barrelled arm indicates that she probably would cut quite a swath in small-bore ranks if that were her sport.

Mrs. Matthews, who is five feet nine, weighs 130 pounds, and has blue eyes and light brown hair, didn't waste her time while Hubby was in the service. After failing in an attempt to join the lady Marines she went to work for the Philadelphia Transportation Company and dove into the NRA's preinduction training program. She got her NRA Instructor rating and spent her evenings instructing pistol classes under the auspices of the Broomall Sportsmen's Club. She didn't get in too much competitive firing during those days but probably made up some ground on George with her continuous practice.

The Champ now has two of her own guns and is after the third necessary to complete her set. She has now switched to the Hi-Standard .22 and has a neat .38 Colt for the centerfire matches.

An infraction of the rules which stemmed from a borrowed gun and probably cost her the National Mid-winter Championship at Tampa last March has got Alice on the search for her own .45 now. The incident occurred when she borrowed a friend's Colt for a .45 event and then swapped horses in the middle of the stream when the gun had a malfunction. Ignorance of the law is no excuse, said the referee, and Alice was disqualified. Everyone felt so bad about it, including herself, that she decided then not to compete in any more .45 matches until she has located a gun to suit her.

Although she has had almost meteoric success in her short but busy pistol career, Alice insists that you can't just wish your way to the top. On the firing line Alice is a stylist, demonstrating sound application of the fundamentals. But that flawless form is the result of proper instruction by her husband, constant practice and proper physical conditioning.

So, ladies, are you lonely on week ends while the Old Man is out to the state shoot? Does your husband leave you nights to go down to the shootin' club? Then lay that skillet down, Babe … Get a pistol.


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