SWIMNEWS ONLINE: June 1996 Magazine Articles

Shopping Media Kit Trial Issue Swim Camp Directory


Cecil M. Colwin

Annette Kellerman, of Australia, one of the first great women's swimming champions, said in 1916 that women swam more gracefully than men, and "what is more, they can swim with almost as much strength, and at least in distance swims very nearly equal men's records." She added, whimsically, "I am not trying to shut men out of swimming. There is enough water in the world for all of us. But as men can indulge in so many other sports where women make a poor showing or cannot compete at all, swimming may well be called the women's sport." (Kellerman, Annette. How to Swim. New York: George H. Doran Company, 1916.)

Annette Kellerman's comment was followed, in December, 1917, by news of Charlotte Epstein's founding of the Women's Swimming Association (W.S.A.) of New York. This was the same year that women won full suffrage in New York State, and it was also the year in which America entered the First World War. "Debutantes and young matrons flocked into the motor corps organized by the National League for Woman's Service. They could be seen, smartly uniformed, driving staff cars and ambulances about the city at all hours of the day and night. Women replaced absent men in business offices, banks, department stores, factories; they filled the numerous wartime agencies set up by the Federal Government. The emergency shattered traditions and swept convention into discard. The younger generation achieved its emancipation without any struggle." (Morris, Lloyd, and Hamish Hamilton. Incredible New York. London, 1950.)

Charlotte Epstein was the administrative genius behind the success of the W.S.A., and the debonair L. deB. Handley was its coaching genius. Together they were to change the face of world swimming. Charlotte Epstein was a court reporter by profession, and a remarkable organizer. "Eppie" as she was known to club members, was to prove a dynamic and driving force. She started the club in a little pool at the Hotel Terrain in Brooklyn, and lucky for those days, the pool also happened to be chlorinated.

Eppie spent much of her spare time attending to the logistics of running the W.S.A. As the membership grew, it became necessary to spread the club's activities to several venues. She was kept constantly busy finding more pools to hire, as well as the finances to pay the rentals involved. Eppie arranged for the team to travel to swimming meets, from local competitions to national championships. She was an expert at everything she did, meticulous to a degree, but always maintaining a close rapport with the swimmers on the team.

In 1932, Charlotte Epstein was appointed the assistant manager of the United States Women's Olympic Swimming Team, the first time a woman had been appointed to this position. Eppie loved nothing better than to plan train trips to swimming meets, and it was said that she knew the train schedules to major cities off by heart. "She always went on the trips as chaperon-manager" said 89-year-old W.S.A. master swimmer, Aileen Riggen Soule recently. "We would go to Buffalo, Toronto, and Philadelphia, to compete, have dinner and come home on the train. In Detroit we would stay over night. As the Manager, Eppie was on the sidelines, helping all the young people." (Borish, Dr. Linda J. "Telephone Interview with Aileen Riggin Soule," June, 1995)

"Eppie and I were good friends. The chaperon and the youngest one roomed together. I was 14 years old in 1920 at the Olympics. In 1924, I roomed with Eppie for one week in a hotel outside of Paris. We needed time to practice, and it was about an hour's drive to the pool in Paris. We were frantic. I had to swim as well as dive, all in one hour; I was in the 100 meters backstroke, as well as the diving. The week before the contests, we got nervous about this lack of time, and we asked if we could stay in Paris and get up at dawn before the pool was really open to anyone. Eppie was always there at workouts at 5:00 a.m."

A Fine Leader

Not only was Charlotte Eppie Epstein a wonderful administrator, with an eye for detail, she was also a fine leader and source of encouragement to every girl on the team. Aileen Riggin Soule said: "The United States Olympic Committee wouldn't take children to the Olympics. Helen Wainwright, Helen Meany and Aileen Riggin were the three youngest members competing, 14 and 15 years old, and this seemed to cause great commotion with the officials. They said there was absolutely no way they were going to take children to the Olympics."

"They had several meetings about this, and they said that they would take the next highest rated women in our place. Our manager, Charlotte Epstein, and other women went to the committee and lodged a complaint. They had a bitter session but finally we won, and the committee members said they would allow us to go."

"During this time of about a week, we packed and unpacked our steamer trunks. We wanted to represent our country and wanted the wonderful trip to Europe. Then Eppie called and said 'Pack again.' We got our passports, and were measured for our uniforms at Spauldings."

"Eppie was always around, an inspiration to all of us. Mr. Handley knew all about swimming. But Eppie knew the manipulations of all the plans, who would compete, where to go. Eppie was terribly important to me. Swimming coach Mr. Handley was too. She was a great influence. My parents thought she was great. She was a very good companion. She was always way ahead of everybody. Eppie could talk us into competing. 'Get points for the club, get in there and dive and never quit, never show off.' These were some of her axioms. 'Behave and have a dress code, compete no matter how you felt.' She was understanding and kind. Eppie was wonderful company, she knew so much. I was one of her most avid pupils. They were great people to look up to; Mr. Handley and "Eppie" were role models. A great team together."

"Attitudes changed completely after the 1920 Olympics. Women participated more in sports. The team got larger after the Olympics. So girls joined the W.S.A. Our W.S.A. swimmers broke records and won races. Eppie was always manager until she became ill. She had cancer." Charlotte Epstein was born September, 1884 in New York City, and died August 2, 1938.


· Telephone Interview with Aileen Riggin Soule by Dr. Linda J. Borish, June 1995, Department of History, Western Michigan University. This research project was supported by the Western Michigan University Research and Development Program.

· Annette Kellerman swam in the first New South Wales Ladies Swimming Championship in the 1901-1902 season. She travelled to the United States and Europe, where she was famous as a marathon swimmer, "motion picture mermaid," and the synchro swimmer who "flirted with Toto, the Funny Fish, through the walls of the glass tank at the New York Hippodrome." Film star Esther Williams later made a film of her life.

Home | E-Mail | Top of Page | June 96 Contents | Magazine
Mag Archives | Calendar | World Rankings | Meet Results | Links to Sites
Photo Library | Biographies | Forums | Shopping | Classifieds

COPYRIGHT © 1995-1998 SWIMNEWS MAGAZINE, All Rights Reserved.
URL: http://swimnews.com