In 1920, at age 35, Charlotte Epstein was not a contender for an Olympic medal in Antwerp, but she was, in many ways, the hero of women’s swimming. Born in 1884 in New York City, “Eppy,” as she was known to her acquaintances, was a court stenographer who took up swimming as a means of exercise after work with her female coworkers.
Credited with founding the Women’s Swimming Association (WSA) in 1917 to help encourage women and girls to exercise more through swimming, Epstein also campaigned with the Amateur Athletic Union to recognize female swimmers. Once she accomplished this, Epstein took on the Olympics.
The first Olympics to include women’s swimming was the 1912 Stockholm Games. The United States, however, did not allow women to participate in any Olympic event at which they could not wear long skirts. It was due to Epstein’s constant lobbying that the United States presented a women’s swimming team in 1920. Epstein was not only the team manager, she also served as the team chaperone, as some of the swimmers were only in their mid-teens.
Epstein also attended the 1924, 1928 and 1932 Olympics, continuing her role of manager and coach. In addition to Olympic medals, “Eppy’s Swimmers,” as they were sometimes called, won 30 national championships and set 52 world records (including the record for swimming the English Channel by Gertrude Ederle, the first woman to attempt this feat).
While Epstein maintained her management role with the Olympic swimmers, she boycotted the 1936 Olympics held in Germany as a protest against the Nazis.
In addition to her work with the Olympic swimming team, Epstein also chaired the swimming committee of the second Maccabiah Games held in Tel Aviv in 1935.
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