Katherine Rawls

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Katherine Rawls
Katherine Rawls 1935.jpg
Rawls in 1935
Personal information
Full nameKatherine Louise Rawls
Nickname(s)"Katy," "The Minnow"
National team United States
Born(1917-06-14)June 14, 1917
Nashville, Tennessee
DiedApril 8, 1982(1982-04-08) (aged 64)
White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia
StrokesFreestyle, springboard diving
ClubMiami Beach Swimming Club

Katherine Louise Rawls (June 14, 1917[1] – April 8, 1982), also known by her married names Katherine Thompson and Katherine Green, was an American competition swimmer and diver. She was the United States national champion in multiple events during the 1930s.[2]

Swimming career[edit]

Rawls was born in Nashville, Tennessee.[3] She learned to swim at the age of two,[4] in Saint Augustine, Florida, and took up diving at the age of seven in Tampa, from a 25-foot (7.6m) platform.[5] During her swimming career she was sometimes called Katy Rawls and nicknamed The Minnow.[4] Her sisters Dorothy (later Mrs. Williams[6]), and Evelyn (McKee[6]), were also Florida state champion swimmers,[7] and the siblings were known collectively as "Rawls' Diving Trio".[5] Together with sister Peggy (Wedgworth[6]) and brother Sonny, a champion diver,[2][8][9][10] the children went to junior contests and exhibitions, as "Rawls' Water Babies".[2]

Rawls caused a sensation at the 1931 U.S. National Championships aged just 14, when she beat star Eleanor Holm in the 300m individual medley in a new world record,[11][12] and the next day beat champion Margaret Hoffman in the 220yds breaststroke.[13][14]

Rawls moved from Hollywood, Florida[12] to Fort Lauderdale in 1932.[15] She received sponsorship from Miami Beach to attend the trials for the 1932 Olympics, and was sometimes misidentified with that city.[3] At the trials, she surprisingly failed to qualify in the 200m-meter breaststroke:[16][17] told by her coach to conserve her strength and aim for the third and last qualifying spot, she narrowly finished fourth.[18] After her loss, she rowed across to the springboard diving, where she surprisingly beat champion Georgia Coleman.[19] She scratched from the high diving because of high winds.[20] She finished second to Coleman at the Olympics.

Rawls beat Coleman again at the National championships that September: one of four victories,[21] the maximum then possible at one meet.[22] She enjoyed sustained success thereafter, often competing in exhibition and carnival events, including a "swim decathlon" in 1934 before a crowd of 50,000, in which she won every event.[23] By 1935, the New York Times made her favorite in seven of the nine events in the upcoming Nationals, depending on which she chose to compete in.[2] Her best swimming events were the individual medley and the distance events,[2] neither of which were Olympic events in the 1930s. (The medley used only three strokes: the butterfly stroke was not separated from the breaststroke until 1952.)

She succeeded instead in qualifying for the 100-meter freestyle in the 1936 Summer Olympics, finishing seventh in the individual and third in the relay.[24] In the springboard diving competition, she suffered a shock defeat on the last dive, to teammate Marjorie Gestring, who was herself just 13.[25] Subsequently, Rawls concentrated on swimming rather than diving.[26]

In 1937, hours after disembarking at San Francisco after a swimming tour of Japan, she commenced a three-day streak at the Nationals which produced an unprecedented four individual swimming titles.[27] For this she was named Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year for 1937,[28] and polled third for the James E. Sullivan Award.[29] In 1938 she retained all four National titles. At the time she was holder of 18 national swimming records in breaststroke, freestyle, and medley events,[30] and had been undefeated in medley races for eight years.[2]

Rawls retired from swimming in 1939, but returned to diving for the trials for the 1948 Olympics, placing fifth with 108.56 points. Second of the three qualifiers was eventual gold medalist Victoria Draves on 111.14, with Marjorie Gestring fourth on 110.67.[31]

U.S. National championships[edit]

Rawls in 1938.

Rawls won a total of 33 U.S. national titles:[2][6] 5 in diving and 28 in swimming, both indoors at the Spring Nationals and outdoors at the Summer Nationals.

  • 1931 Summer:[11] 1st in 300m medley, 220yd breaststroke; 2nd in springboard diving
  • 1932 Summer:[21] 1st in 300m medley, 220yd breaststroke, 880yd freestyle, springboard diving
  • 1933 Spring:[32] 1st in 300yd medley, lowboard diving
  • 1933 Summer:[9] 1st in 300m medley, springboard diving; 2nd in 220yd breaststroke
  • 1934 Spring:[33] 1st in 300yd medley, lowboard diving; 2nd in highboard diving
  • 1934 Summer:[34] 1st in 300m medley, springboard diving
  • 1935 Spring:[22] 1st in 300yd medley, 100yd breaststroke, 100yd freestyle; 2nd in 220yd freestyle
  • 1935 Summer:[10] 1st in 300m medley, 220yd breaststroke
  • 1936 Spring: 1st in 300yd medley,[35] 100yd breaststroke[36][37]
  • 1936 Summer: 1st in 300m medley[38]
  • 1937 Spring: 1st in 300yd medley,[39] 100yd breaststroke;[36] 2nd in 500yd freestyle[40]
  • 1937 Summer:[41] 1st in 300m medley,[42] 440yd,[43] 880yd,[44] & mile[45] freestyle
  • 1938 Spring:[46] 1st in 300m medley, 100yd breaststroke
  • 1938 Summer:[41] 1st in 300m medley, 440yd, 880yd, & mile freestyle

Later life[edit]

In November 1937, Rawls' parents announced her engagement to an advertising executive named William Starr.[47] On May 18, 1938, unbeknown to her mother, Rawls married Theodore H. Thompson, an airplane pilot.[48] She began working at the Thompson School of Aviation in Fort Lauderdale.[49] She had qualified as a pilot while still swimming. While continuing to swim at exhibitions, she did not compete at the 1939 Nationals, and retired from swimming when the 1940 Olympics ware cancelled owing to the outbreak of World War II.[2][50] She was one of the initial 28 pilots who formed the Women's Auxiliary Ferrying Squadron in 1942, stationed at Detroit,[51] transporting military cargo by air as part of the U.S. war effort.[52] In 1943, her husband reportedly sued her for divorce, but dropped the charges as caused by a "misunderstanding" and anticipated her return from Detroit to his farm in Florida.[51] Rawls was a swimming instructor for 20 years at the Greenbrier Hotel in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.[6] In 1965, she was one of the inaugural inductees to the International Swimming Hall of Fame, and officially opened its pool in Fort Lauderdale, near the former Casino Pool where she had trained in the 1930s.[2] She died from cancer in 1982 after several years of illness.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Birthdate June 14, 1917 is listed in the Social Security Death Index [1]; June 28, 1917 is given by Burghard in Time, 1935 (see below); June 14, 1918 is given by Ralph Hickok [2]
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i "KATHERINE RAWLS (USA) 1965 Honor Swimmer/Diver". International Swimming Hall of Fame. 1965. Retrieved December 13, 2017.
  3. ^ a b Burghard, August (May 27, 1935). "Fort Lauderdale's Shame". Time. Retrieved September 6, 2007.
  4. ^ a b Nason, p. 199
  5. ^ a b Nason, p. 201
  6. ^ a b c d e f Associated Press (April 9, 1982). "Obituary: Katherine Rawls, 64, Winner Of 33 U.S. Swimming Titles". New York Times. Retrieved September 5, 2007.
  7. ^ "FHSAA Girls Swimming & Diving Championship Records" (PDF). Florida High School Athletic Association. p. 6. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 29, 2008. Retrieved September 7, 2007. Most Individual Titles, Career: 14–Katherine Rawls,... 11–Dorothy Rawls,...11–Evelyn Rawls
  8. ^ Pieroth, p. 64
  9. ^ a b "At Jones Beach". Time. July 31, 1933. Retrieved September 7, 2007. Katherine Rawls ... ran off with the loft. spring board diving title ... broke her own world's record in the 300-meter medley championship, barely missed regaining her 220-yd. breast stroke title ... Minnow Rawls, whose three little sisters and one little brother are all swimming champions of some sort
  10. ^ a b "Salt Water Sorority". Time. July 29, 1935. Retrieved September 7, 2007. list of champions: ... 220-yd. breast stroke—Katherine Rawls 300-metre medley—Katherine Rawls ... Familiar to rotogravure readers are the Rawls sisters—Katherine (18), Evelyn (16), Dorothy (15), Peggy (10). Evelyn last week finished third in the free-style mile, fourth in the medley. Dorothy was fourth in the 220-yd. breast stroke.
  11. ^ a b "Swimmers". Time. July 27, 1931. Retrieved September 6, 2007.
  12. ^ a b Handley, L. de B. (July 18, 1931). "MISS HOLM BEATEN IN U.S. SWIM UPSET". New York Times. p. 14. Loses in 300-Meter Medley as Miss Rawls, 14, Clips 4 Seconds Off World's Mark. WINNER'S TIME IS 4:45 4–5...Miss Katherine Rawls, 14-year-old lassie of Hollywood, Fla
  13. ^ Nason, pp. 206–7
  14. ^ Pieroth, pp. 64, 78
  15. ^ FHSAA Girls Swimming & Diving Championship Record, p. 6: "14––Katherine Rawls, Hollywood, 75 IM 1931; 100 breast 1931; Diving 1931; Fort Lauderdale, 50 back 1933, 1935; 75 IM 1932, 1933; 100 free 1934; 150 free 1934; 100 breast 1932, 1933, 1934, 1935; Diving 1935." The International Swimming Hall of Fame misprints this as 1933 ("Her first grand slam came in 1933, the year she moved to Fort Lauderdale": Her first grand slam was also in 1932.)
  16. ^ Nason, p. 207
  17. ^ Pieroth p. 78
  18. ^ "Olympic Trials". Time. July 25, 1932. Retrieved September 6, 2007.
  19. ^ Pieroth p.78
  20. ^ Pieroth p.79
  21. ^ a b Associated Press (September 11, 1932). "MISS RAWLS TAKES FOURTH SWIM TITLE". New York Times. p. S2. ALSO WINS IN 10-FOOT DIVE Scores 94.40 to Beat Miss Poynton, Olympic Champion
  22. ^ a b "Females in Water". Time. April 22, 1935. Retrieved September 7, 2007. This year she decided not to defend her diving championship, to try for a clean sweep in four swimming events, the most any contestant is allowed to enter ... The three she won were 100-yd. freestyle, 300-yd. medley, 100-yd. breaststroke ... The one she lost was the 220-yd. freestyle
  23. ^ "MISS RAWLS VICTOR IN SWIM DECATHLON". New York Times. September 4, 1934. p. 26 (Sports). 50,000 at Jones Beach Watch Florida Girl Complete a Ten-Event Sweep.
  24. ^ Nason, pp. 216–9
  25. ^ Nason, pp. 221–2
  26. ^ Nason, p. 202
  27. ^ Nason, p. 226
  28. ^ "MISS RAWLS TOPS WOMEN ATHLETES". New York Times. December 15, 1937. p. 33. But Swimmer, With 53, Gains Only One-Point Margin in Associated Press Poll
  29. ^ "SULLIVAN AWARD IS WON BY BUDGE". New York Times. December 31, 1937. p. 13 (Sports). Third Place to Miss Rawls, Swimmer
  30. ^ Nason, pp. 202, 228
  31. ^ "U.S. Olympic Committee Report" (PDF). 1948. p. 134.
  32. ^ "Who Won". Time. May 1, 1933. Retrieved September 7, 2007. Katherine ("Minnow") Rawls, 15, of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.: championships in lowboard diving and the 300-yd. medley swim, with a new world's record of 4:14.4; at the Women's National A. A. U. Championships, in Buffalo, New York.
  33. ^ "Ladies in the Pool". Time. April 23, 1934. Retrieved September 7, 2007. Individual titles: 300-yd. medley — Katherine Rawls ... Low-board dive—Katherine Rawls .... In the highboard dive, Minnow Rawls placed second
  34. ^ "Daughters' Girl". Time. August 6, 1934. Retrieved September 7, 2007. Individual titles : ... 3-meter springboard diving: Katherine Rawls ... 300-meter medley: Katherine Rawls
  35. ^ Associated Press (April 2, 1936). "MISS RAWLS SETS NEW SWIM RECORD". New York Times. p. 35 (Sports). Retrieved September 5, 2007. Breaks Own U.S. Mark in the 300-Yard Medley, Winning Event in 4:06.3.
  36. ^ a b "MISS RAWLS BEATS OWN MEET RECORD". New York Times. April 16, 1937. p. 32. Retrieved September 5, 2007. Katherine Rawls ... successfully defended her women's national indoor A. A. U. 100-yard breast-stroke title tonight and set a new record in doing it.
  37. ^ Associated Press (April 3, 1936). "Higgins and Miss Rawls Score With Records". New York Times. p. 31 (Sports). Retrieved September 5, 2007.
  38. ^ Vinson, Maribel Y. (June 27, 1936). "MISS RAWLS KEEPS A.A.U. SWIM TITLE;". New York Times. p. 10 (Sports). Retrieved September 7, 2007. Takes 300-Meter Medley for Sixth Successive Year at National Championships.
  39. ^ "Miss Rawls and Miss Eckert Retain National Swim Titles". New York Times. April 15, 1937. p. 31. Retrieved September 5, 2007. Florida Star Boasts Record Total of 22 A. A. U. Crowns After Capturing 300 Yard Medley
  40. ^ "Misses Brennan, Forbes Also Win A. A. U. Tests". New York Times. April 18, 1937. p. 1 (Sports). Retrieved September 5, 2007. Elizabeth Brennan ... winning the 500yard free-style championship by three yards from Miami Beach's Miss Katherine Rawls.
  41. ^ a b "Who Won". Time. August 1, 1938. Retrieved September 7, 2007. Katherine Rawls Thompson of Miami Beach: four swimming events (300-metre medley, 440-yd., 880-yd. and one-mile free style) in the women's national outdoor championships; for the second year in a row; finishing three of them in world-record-breaking time; at Santa Barbara, Calif.
  42. ^ "MISS RAWLS KEEPS LAURELS IN SWIM". New York Times. September 5, 1937. p. 51 (Sports). Retrieved September 5, 2007. Takes National A. A. U. Medley Title for Seventh Time
  43. ^ "MISS RAWLS TAKES THIRD SWIM TITLE". New York Times. September 6, 1937. Retrieved September 5, 2007. Gains National A. A. U. 440Yard Free-Style Honors in Meet on Coast
  44. ^ "MISS RAWLS GAINS FOURTH SWIM TITLE". New York Times. September 7, 1937. Retrieved September 5, 2007. Florida Ace Takes U. S. 880-Yard Crown
  45. ^ "Miss Rawls First in Mile". New York Times. September 4, 1937. p. 11. Retrieved September 5, 2007.
  46. ^ "MISS RAWLS BREAKS MARK IN TITLE SWIM". New York Times. May 2, 1938. p. 20. Retrieved September 5, 2007. Katherine Rawls ... had to break a national record and tie another to retain her titles in the 300-yard individual medley race and the 100-yard breast-stroke in the 1938 women's national swimming championships tonight.
  47. ^ "KATHERINE RAWLS'S TROTH". New York Times. November 22, 1937. p. 16. Swimming Star to Be Bride of William Starr of Florida
  48. ^ "KATHERINE RAWLS WED". New York Times. May 22, 1938. p. 40. Swimming Star Becomes Bride of T. H. Thompson, Aviator...Mrs. W. J. Rawls, the swimmer's mother, said that Katherine told her of the marriage by long distance telephone.
  49. ^ Nason, pp. 227–8
  50. ^ Pieroth p. 144
  51. ^ a b "Society". Time. December 6, 1943. Retrieved September 6, 2007.
  52. ^ Rickman, Sarah Byrn (October 1, 2002). Flight From Fear. Disc Us Books. ISBN 1-58444-273-5. Retrieved September 5, 2007.


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