Epstein, Charlotte

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EPSTEIN, CHARLOTTE (1884–1938), U.S. swimmer and champion of U.S. women's participation in the Olympic Games; known as the "Mother of Women's Swimming in America." The daughter of Moritz H. and Sara Epstein, Charlotte was born in New York City and educated at the Ethical Culture School. She became a court stenographer. Epstein, who enjoyed swimming competitively, joined the recently formed National Women's Life-Saving League in 1911; in 1913, she served as chair of the Athletic Branch of the National Women's Life-Saving League in which role she and colleagues campaigned to reform gender constraints in aquatic sports and to convince the Amateur Athletic Union (aau) to allow women to compete in Olympic aquatic events.

In October 1917 Epstein founded the New York City Women's Swimming Association (wsa), a non-profit club, to advance the sport of women's swimming. "Eppie," as she was known, launched the swimming careers of many American and Olympic swimming champions when she became team manager of wsa, chairman of its Sports Committee and, in 1929, president. She successfully battled the U.S. Olympic Committee to enable American female swimmers and divers to compete in the 1920 Olympics in Antwerp, Belgium, the first time women participated in aquatic Olympic events. As U.S. Olympic Women's Swimming Team Manager in 1920, 1924, and 1932, Epstein's wsa members won Olympic championships and set numerous world records. Epstein served as chair of the national aau women's swimming committee.

Eppie worked with Jewish organizations with suitable swimming pools. The wsa team of Olympians swam at the Young Women's Hebrew Association of New York for national championship meets in the 1920s. In 1935 Epstein served as chair of the Swimming Committee of the Second Maccabiah Games where wsa swimmer Janice Lifson triumphed. In 1936 Epstein refused to attend the Berlin Olympic Games and withdrew from the American Olympic Committee in protest at U.S. participation in the "Nazi Olympics." Epstein's major influence on swimming continued until her death. She was inducted into the International Swimming Hall of Fame and the International Jewish Sport Hall of Fame.


L.J. Borish, "'The Cradle of American Champions, Women Champions … Swim Champions': Charlotte Epstein, Gender and Jewish Identity, and the Physical Emancipation of Women in Aquatic Sports," in: The International Journal of the History of Sport, 21 (March 2004), 197–235; idem, "Epstein, Charlotte," in: P.E. Hyman and D. Dash Moore, Jewish Women in America: An Historical Encyclopedia, vol. 1 (1997), 380–82.

[Linda J. Borish (2nd ed.)]