Hélène de Pourtalès

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Hélène de Pourtalès
Helene de Pourtales c1900.jpg
Personal information
Birth nameHelen Barbey
Born(1868-04-28)April 28, 1868
New York City, New York, U.S.
DiedNovember 2, 1945(1945-11-02) (aged 77)
Geneva, Switzerland
Sailing career
Class(es)1–2 ton
ClubUnion des Yachtsmen
Updated on May 8, 2015.
Swiss boat Lérina – 1900 Summer Olympics

Countess Hélène de Pourtalès (April 28, 1868 – November 2, 1945), born Helen Barbey, was an American-born sailor who competed in the 1900 Summer Olympics representing Switzerland and became the first woman to win an Olympic gold medal.[1] She was also the first woman to represent Switzerland at the Olympics.[2][3]

Early life[edit]

Helen Barbey was born on April 28, 1868, in New York City, the daughter of Henry Isaac Barbey and Mary (née Lorillard) Barbey. Her maternal grandparents were Pierre Lorillard III[4] and Catherine Anne (née Griswold) Lorillard.[5][6] Her sister Eva was married to André Poupart, Baron de Neuflize in 1903, the older brother of Roberte Ponsonby, Countess of Bessborough.[7][8] Her father, a financier and a director of the Buffalo, Rochester and Pittsburgh Railway, was a nephew of Adrian Georg Iselin and cousin of Charles Oliver Iselin.[9]

Her family included her uncle Pierre Lorillard IV;[10][11] aunt Catherine Lorillard;[12][13][14] uncle George Lyndes Lorillard,[15] who married Marie Louise La Farge, the daughter[citation needed] of John La Farge and the sister[citation needed] of Christopher Grant La Farge, who later became the Countess de Agreda after she married Count de Agreda;[16][17] and Louis Lasher Lorillard, who married Katherine Livingston Beeckman,[18] sister of Governor Robert Livingston Beeckman.[19]

Barbey grew up at 17 West 38th Street in New York City.[20]


De Pourtalès was a crewmember of the Swiss boat Lérina, which won the gold medal in the first race of 1–2 ton class and silver medal in the second race of 1–2 ton class. She also participated in the open class but did not finish. Her husband Hermann, as helmsman, and her husband's nephew Bernard were also crew members.[21] De Pourtalès was also one of the first women to take part in the Olympics, as that was the first time women were allowed to compete.[22] She was very well known after her gold medal, becoming the first woman to win a gold medal two months before Charlotte Cooper.[citation needed]

Personal life[edit]

On 25 April 1891,[23] de Pourtalès was married to Hermann Alexander, Count von Pourtalès (1847–1904),[1] after the death of his first wife, Marguerite Marcet. Hermann was a captain of the Cuirassiers of the Guard.[20]

From his first marriage, de Pourtalès became the stepmother of Count Guy de Pourtalès (1881–1941), the author, and Count Raimond Pourtalès (1882–1914), attache of the German embassy, who married Countess Luise Alexandra von Bernstorff (1888–1971), daughter of Johann Heinrich von Bernstorff, the German Ambassador to the United States[24] in 1911.[25] The wedding, which took place in Washington, D.C. was attended by William Howard Taft, who was then the President of the United States.[25] After his death in 1914, his widow Luise Alexandra remarried to Prince Johannes Baptista of Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rosenberg (1880–1956), the youngest son of Charles, 6th Prince of Löwenstein-Wertheim-Rosenberg.[26]

De Pourtalès died on November 2, 1945, in Geneva.[1]


  1. ^ a b c "Hélène de Pourtalès Bio, Stats, and Results". Olympic Sports. Archived from the original on February 21, 2014. Retrieved February 8, 2014.
  2. ^ "First female competitors at the Olympics by country". Olympedia. Retrieved June 26, 2020.
  3. ^ "Hélène de Pourtalès". Olympedia. Retrieved December 29, 2020.
  4. ^ Shrager, Mark (April 1, 2016). The Great Sweepstakes of 1877: A True Story of Southern Grit, Gilded Age Tycoons, and a Race That Galvanized the Nation. Guilford, Connecticut: Rowman & Littlefield. ISBN 9781493018895. Retrieved September 14, 2016.
  5. ^ "Pierre Lorillard III". www.thepeerage.com. The Peerage. Retrieved September 14, 2016.
  6. ^ The World Almanac and Encyclopedia. Press Publishing Company, (The New York World). 1905. p. 330. Retrieved November 17, 2017.
  7. ^ "MISS DE NEUFLIZE ENGAGED IN PARIS; Her Betrothal to Baron Jean de Watteville Berckheim Is Annotinced MARCH WEDDING PLANNED Bride-to-Be Is a Granddiughter of-Late Mr and Mrs. Henry Barbey of New York". The New York Times. February 21, 1937. Retrieved February 18, 2018.
  8. ^ "MISS DE NEUFLIZE BRIDE IN CATHEDRAL; She Is Married in Paris to Baron Jean de Watteville-Berckheim of Alsace". The New York Times. March 13, 1937. Retrieved February 18, 2018.
  9. ^ Patterson, Jerry E. (2000). The First Four Hundred : Mrs. Astor's New York in the Gilded Age. New York: Rizzoli. ISBN 0847822850. Retrieved February 18, 2018.
  10. ^ "PIERRE LORILLARD, SR., IN CRITICAL CONDITION; Removed from the Deutschland to a Hotel in an Ambulance. Was Taken III in England and Was Confined to His Cabin Throughout the Voyage". The New York Times. July 5, 1901. Retrieved November 17, 2017.
  11. ^ "PIERRE LORILLARD DEAD; Famous in Society, in Commerce, and in the World of Sport. First American to Win the English Derby – Other Triumphs on the Turf in Both Hemispheres". The New York Times. July 8, 1901. Retrieved November 17, 2017.
  12. ^ "Mrs. Catherine Lorillard Kernochan". The New York Times. February 27, 1917. Retrieved November 17, 2017.
  13. ^ "JAMES P. KERNOCHAN DEAD; Well-Known Clubman Expires from the Effects of Being Knocked Down on Monday. CAUSE OF THE ACCIDENT. Archibald Pell Says He Knew Tuesday that Miss Baker, the Banker's Daughter, Drove the Wagon Which Ran Against His Father-in-Law". The New York Times. March 6, 1897. Retrieved November 17, 2017.
  14. ^ Pell, Eve (2009). We Used to Own the Bronx: Memoirs of a Former Debutante. SUNY Press. p. 14. ISBN 9781438424972. Retrieved November 17, 2017.
  15. ^ "GEORGE LORILLARD'S DEATH.; HIS CAREER AS A YACHTSMAN AND ON THE TURF". The New York Times. February 5, 1886. Retrieved November 17, 2017.
  16. ^ "DEATH LIST OF A DAY. | Countess de Agreda". The New York Times. July 3, 1899. Retrieved November 17, 2017.
  17. ^ "WHAT IS DOING IN SOCIETY". The New York Times. September 8, 1899. Retrieved November 17, 2017.
  18. ^ "MRS. LORILLARD, 86, OF NEWPORT, DEAD; Sister of Ex-Gov. Beeckman of Rhode Island Had Suffered a Stroke Thursday". The New York Times. July 21, 1941. Retrieved November 17, 2017.
  19. ^ "Mrs. Louis L. Lorillard Ill". The New York Times. February 26, 1921. Retrieved November 17, 2017.
  20. ^ a b "MISS BARBEY ENGAGED.; Daughter of the Late Henry Barbey of New York to Wed Gilbert Elliott". The New York Times. August 3, 1910. Retrieved February 18, 2018.
  21. ^ Mallon, Bill (2015). The 1900 Olympic Games: Results for All Competitors in All Events, with Commentary. 2. McFarland. p. 295. ISBN 9780786489527.
  22. ^ Boykoff, Jules (2016). Power Games: A Political History of the Olympics. Verso Books. p. 36. ISBN 9781784780739.
  23. ^ "GUY DE POURTALÈS – Sa vie". Fondation Guy de Pourtalès (in French). Retrieved July 16, 2021.
  24. ^ "YOUNG COUNTESS TO MARRY; Daughter of Ambassador von Bernstorff Engaged to Count Pourtales". The New York Times. December 11, 1910. Retrieved February 18, 2018.
  25. ^ a b "PRESIDENT ATTENDS EMBASSY WEDDING; Countess von Bernstorff, Daughter of the German Ambassador, Married to Count Pourtales". The New York Times. March 28, 1911. Retrieved February 18, 2018.
  26. ^ Watzdorf-Bachoff, Erika von (1997). Im Wandel und in der Verwandlung der Zeit: ein Leben von 1878 bis 1963 (in German). Franz Steiner Verlag. p. 430. ISBN 9783515070621. Retrieved February 18, 2018.

Further reading[edit]