Madison, Helene, 1913-1970

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1913-06-19
Death 1970-11-27

Biographical notes:

Olympic gold medalist, of Seattle, Wash.

Born in South Bend, Wash., Helene Madison began swimming in early childhood, after the family relocated to Seattle when Madison was two years old. When she was six, the family moved to a home a block away from Green Lake, where Helene swam regularly and participated in the Parks Dept. swim programs. With the help of Green Lake coach Jack Torney, Helene developed an effective racing technique, began competing locally, and soon outgrew the competition. Winning the Seattle Post-Intelligencer swim carnival in 1928, Madison caught the eye of Ray Daughters, coach at the Crystal Pool, who recruited her for his team. Swimming competitively under Daughters for the Crystal Pool team and later, for the Washington Athletic Club, Madison developed her extraordinary talent in the freestyle to the point of being virtually unbeatable. Within sixteen months in 1930-1931, Madison broke all sixteen world freestyle records in various distances, sweeping the freestyle events at various national championships. She traveled to New York for the Olympic swimming trials at Jones Beach, winning first place in the 100 meters and 400 meters freestyle, and qualifying for the American women's team. Competing in the tenth Olympiad in Los Angeles in Aug. 1932, Madison won three gold medals in the freestyle--in the 100 meters, 400 meters, and 400 meter relay. Madison was honored upon her return by the largest ticker tape parade in Seattle history and a banquet in her honor at the Civic Auditorium. The 1932 Olympics marked the end of Madison's amateur swimming career. Retired from competition and disqualified from teaching by the Seattle Parks Dept. policy of not hiring female swim instructors, in 1936 Madison worked selling hot dogs at a confectionary stand at Green Lake bathing beach in order to earn some money. Soon after, Madison decided to enter training at Virginia Mason Hospital to pursue a career as a registered nurse. While in training, she met Luther C. McIver, an executive at Puget Sound Power and Light, while he was one of her convalescing patients. Madison married McIver in Mar. 1937, and the couple had a daughter, their only child, Helene Jr. ("Junie"), the following year. Madison continued to appear in newspapers, largely in relation to her earlier accomplishments and those of swimmers who were beginning to break her records, as well as in occasional public appearances. Her direct involvement in swimming was minimal until the late 1940s or so, when Madison opened and ran a swimming school at the Moore Hotel pool, coaching male and female swimmers, including future Olympian Nancy Ramey. By the late 1950s, however, Madison's health had begun to decline, and the school closed in 1958. Already diagnosed with diabetes, Madison developed throat cancer in the mid-1960s; she died in Nov. 1970 at age fifty-seven. Today, Seattle has two Helene Madison pools, a Seattle Parks and Recreation pool on Meridian Avenue North, dedicated in 1972, and a pool at the Washington Athletic Club in downtown Seattle. Helene Madison was posthumously inducted into the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame in 1992.

From the description of Helene Madison papers, 1914-1972 (bulk 1929-1932). (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 247369835

Seattle swimming phenomenon Helene Madison (June 19, 1913 – November 27, 1970) had already broken all sixteen world freestyle records and most of the American freestyle records before going on to win three gold medals at the 1932 Olympics Games in Los Angeles at 19 years old.

Born in South Bend, Washington, Madison began swimming in early childhood, after the family relocated to Seattle when Madison was two years old. When she was six, the family moved to a home a block away from Green Lake, where Helene swam regularly and participated in the Parks Department swim programs. With the help of Green Lake coach Jack Torney, Helene developed an effective racing technique, began competing locally, and soon outgrew the competition. Winning the Seattle Post-Intelligencer swim carnival in 1928, Madison caught the eye of Ray Daughters, coach at the Crystal Pool, who recruited her for his team. Swimming competitively under Daughters for the Crystal Pool team and later, for the Washington Athletic Club, Madison developed her extraordinary talent in the freestyle to the point of being virtually unbeatable. Within sixteen months in 1930-1931, Madison broke all sixteen world freestyle records in various distances, sweeping the freestyle events at various national championships. She traveled to New York for the Olympic swimming trials at Jones Beach, winning first place in the 100 meters and 400 meters freestyle, and qualifying for the American women's team.

Competing in the tenth Olympiad in Los Angeles in August 1932, Madison won three gold medals in the freestyle--in the 100 meters, 400 meters and 400 meter relay. Madison was honored upon her return by the largest ticker tape parade in Seattle history and a banquet in her honor at the Civic Auditorium. The 1932 Olympics, however, marked the end of Madison's amateur swimming career. In order to contribute to the family's finances, especially after they had committed substantial resources to support her swimming, Madison had already decided to pursue the apparently lucrative opportunities created by her fame.

During the Olympics, several athletes were wooed by Hollywood executives, and Madison had accepted a motion picture contract even before Games had ended. She starred as herself in the unsuccessful Mack Sennett comedy "The Human Fish" in 1932 and performed in an uncredited role in the 1933 "The Warrior's Husband"; a brief career as a nightclub entertainer followed. These roles and her paid performances in swimming exhibitions, while not providing the substantial financial compensation Madison had hoped for, nevertheless officially ended her amateur status, precluding Madison's participation in the 1936 Olympic Games. Retired from competition and disqualified from teaching by the Seattle Parks Department policy of not hiring female swim instructors, in 1936 Madison worked selling hot dogs at a confectionary stand at Green Lake bathing beach in order to earn some money. Soon after, Madison decided to enter training at Virginia Mason Hospital to pursue a career as a registered nurse. While in training, she met Luther C. McIver, an executive at Puget Sound Power and Light, while he was one of her convalescing patients. Madison married McIver in March 1937, and the couple had a daughter, their only child, Helene Jr. ("Junie"), the following year.

Madison continued to appear in newspapers, largely in relation to her earlier accomplishments and those of swimmers who were beginning to break her records, as well as in occasional public appearances. Her direct involvement in swimming was minimal until the late 1940s or so, when Madison opened a swimming school at the Moore Hotel pool, coaching male and female swimmers, including future Olympian Nancy Ramey. By the late 1950s, however, Madison's health had begun to decline, and the school closed in 1958. Already diagnosed with diabetes, Madison developed throat cancer in the mid-1960s; she died, after a long and painful illness, in her Green Lake basement apartment in November 1970 at age 57.

Today, Seattle has two Helene Madison pools, a Seattle Parks and Recreation pool on Meridian Avenue North, dedicated in 1972, and a pool at the Washington Athletic Club in downtown Seattle. Helene Madison was posthumously inducted into the US Olympic Hall of Fame in 1992.

From the guide to the Helene Madison papers, 1914-1972, 1929-1932, (Museum of History & Industry Sophie Frye Bass Library)

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Subjects:

  • Photographs
  • Women
  • Seattle
  • Sports and Recreation
  • Olympic Games (10th : 1932 : Los Angeles, Calif.)
  • Women swimmers
  • Swimmers--Washington (State)--Seattle

Occupations:

not available for this record

Places:

  • Washington (State)--Seattle (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)