Nan Gindele: Chicago’s Star of Track and Field and Softball; Essay by Robert Pruter

To illustrate conempt in text.

Nan Gindele throwing a javelin

Nan Gindele was an Olympian, a national javelin throw champion and three time baseball throw champion, and a member of two national championship softball teams.

Nan Gindele was one of the best women athletes to come out of Chicago. Like her fellow Olympic competitor, Betty Robinson, she came out of nowhere, and was a champion immediately. Like many top women athletes she was an elite performer in more than one sport–in track and field and softball. In track and field, she was an Olympian, and a world record holder in baseball throw, basketball throw, and javelin, taking a national championship in javelin and three national titles on basketball throw. She was on eight AAU national champion teams, four outdoor and four indoor. In her six-year career as one of the top softball players in Chicago, she was on teams that won four city and metropolitan titles, made it four times to the national title game, and played on two national title teams.

Nan Gindele was born Ferdinanda Kathryn Gindele in Chicago on August 5, 1910.   Her parents were George W. Gindele, of German ancestry, and Julia Seabrook Gindele, of English ancestry. She was from a large family with seven siblings, four sisters and three brothers. She appeared to have an upper middle class upbringing, as her father was a surgeon and her mother did not work. None of her brothers or sisters, it appears, became athletes of note.1

Gindele was raised in the Northwest Side of the city, attending Schurz High School. There she competed in various intramural sports, notably basketball. Peculiarly Schurz was  in violation of Chicago Public High School League that limited girls competition to intramural sports and play days, as the school sponsored a basketball team that played outside competition. There were no other schools to play, except Catholic schools, so Schurz played amateur teams—notably First National Bank, Central Trust Bank, and Olivet Institute—scheduling teams that played the line game, which in Chicago were educational institutions and the banker league teams. Gindele was the captain of the team. Gindele graduated in February 1929, and on the page of the school’s paired “notables,” male and female, she was listed as the “most athletic” female at Schurz.2

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Captain Nan Gindele (holding basketball) and her Schurz High School team, 1929.

While attending Schurz High, Gindele was also competing in track and field with the Belding Playground team. In June 1928, she competed in the massive inaugural Chicago American/Central AAU meet, in an event called the baseball throw.  She was not competitive yet, and was not the best baseball thrower on the Belding team, which was Dorothy Ogren (who in 1929 took second in the Chicago American/Central AAU meet and fourth in the National AAU). Aside from this first mention in 1928, her name does not appear among competitors in the newspapers, even on the Belding team, in the next three years. She may have dropped out of track and field during this time, and possibly concentrating on softball.3

Finally,  in July of 1931, a year and a half out of high school, Gindele entered the massive Chicago American/Central AAU meet in the baseball throw. She was listed as unaffiliated with any park district or club, and was essentially unknown. The unattached tosser before 10,000 fans in Soldier Field surprised the field by throwing the baseball 245 feet, 1 inch, to set a new Central AAU record, breaking the one set by IWAC’s Catherine Rutherford in 1929. She beat the old record by nine feet, which impressed all track and field observers at the meet. Gindele was undoubtedly playing softball at this time, but the game was barely reported then so there is no information on her in the newspapers. The IWAC, ever alert to recruiting the best athletes, immediately added her to their track and field team.4

The Chicago American agreed to provide all record breakers in the meet financial support to the AAU Nationals, but oddly although Gindele went to the Nationals in Jersey City, New Jersey, she was sent to compete in the javelin, Although the American/Central AAU had a javelin event, the Central AAU officials presumably did not have a thrower to sent to the meet. The American reporter, Leo Fischer, recruited Gindele for the javelin and sent her name to the AAU authorities for the national meet. On the day before leaving for the meet, Gindele practiced on the javelin. She failed miserably, unable to make the javelin stick. Nonetheless, she went to New Jersey, gave it her best, and stuck the javelin to take third place, with a modest 108 feet, but only eight feet fewer than the great Lillian Copeland’s first place finish. Her points helped the IWAC win the Nationals for the third time.5

Returning from her miraculous achievement at the nationals, Gindele dedicated herself to adding javelin to her baseball throwing. The Chicago American loaned her their meet javelin, and recruited Racine Thompson, an AAU javelin competitor, to train and coach her for the competition in 1932, which included the Olympic Games in Los Angeles. While Gindele never had park experience what we see here are the various institutions of the city, the Chicago American, the IWAC, and the Central AAU all coming together to develop a woman javelin thrower.6

During 1932, Gindele was prepared for a year of success in her throwing events. The first meet to display her skills, the Central AAU meet in June was probably the most spectacular of her career, but before only 2,500 spectators. The Chicago American in 1932 had switched its sponsorship from the Central AAU meet to the National meet being held at Dyche Stadium at Northwestern University in mid-July. Gindele at the Central AAU won the baseball throw for the second consecutive year, a most respectable 240 feet. In her javelin throw, she threw the spear to an unheard of world record distance of 153 feet 4 ½ inches, which beat the unofficial record by twenty feet. The record became the first javelin record recognized by the International Association of Athletics Federations, and was not broken until 1938. The record distance was an anomaly in Gindele’s career, but not indicative of a measuring mistake. The entire day all her throws were more than 140 feet, which she never exceeded the remainder of her career.7

The Olympic Games proved a disappointment for Gindele, where she took only fifth place in the javelin behind winner Babe Didrikson of Texas. Her throw was only 124 feet 6 1/8 inches, and as she explained to a reporter decades later that it was essentially her youth and inexperience performing on such a large stage: “I was 22, and that was the farthest I’d ever traveled, I was almost too frightened to compete.”8

In 1933, Gindele, added two new events to her track and field repertoire, when she had the opportunity during the winter season to compete in the basketball throw and standing broad jump. She was presumably competing in basketball at the time, but probably with a low level team that went unnoticed by the newspapers. At the National AAU indoor meet in Madison Square Garden, in New York City, in February, 1933, in which her team, the IWAC, participated for the first time, proved another high point of Gindele’s career. She won the basketball throw and set a new world record at 101 feet, 6 ¾ inches. Her mark was still listed as the world record in 1940. She also brought points to her team in standing broad jump, taking third.9

The Central AAU outdoor meet returned to Chicago American-sponsorship in June 1933, where Gindele’s performances in baseball throw and javelin were subpar. In the baseball throw, she took second to Catherine Rutherford, and won javelin, but with a mark 126 feet 8 inches mark, well below her world record. At the National AAU outdoor meet of 1933, held in Soldier Field, Gindele brought first place points to the winning IWAC team with her javelin throw of 130 feet 2 ¼ inches.10

To illustrate concept in text

Nsn Gindele (left). all star softball player poses with other Chicago all star players, Catherine Rutherford and Marguerite Eastland, 1932.

Gindele achieved remarkable success in softball, playing outfield of course, with her tremendous arm, as evident from her work in the baseball throw in track and field. The summer and fall of 1933 she played for the Great Northern Laundry team that competed for the huge American Tournament, sponsored by the Chicago American, and the inaugural national softball championship that followed. Her team, which included such outstanding stars as Anne Goldstein, Babe Sisk, and Ella Smith, won both tournaments. The following year, the Great Northern Laundry team, now called the Hart Motor Girls with a new sponsor, repeated as both the American Tournament and the national softball championship, with Gindele again playing a starring role as center fielder on the team.11

Gindele joined the Great Northern Debs basketball team in January of 1934, which was made up of some members of the recently disbanded famed Taylor Trunks semi-pro team, Gindele’s teammates included Cassie Martin, Inza Teague, and Hazel Kelfstrom. In the huge Chicago American tournament in March her team competing in the top class in the finals was eliminated early. Gindele produced no points in the close loss. Her name never appeared again in the detailed reporting of the American Tournament, in the years before and after 1934, which suggests she was rarely with a top team that would appear in the papers.12

The National AAU indoor track and field meet of 1934 was held in mid-April in Brooklyn, New York, and Chicago in place of the defunct IWAC, sent an ad hoc “Chicago Park District” team combining ten Lincoln Park District competitors and two South Park District competitors. Gindele for the second consecutive year won the basketball throw, about six inches below her record throw the year before. She beat out two other Chicago throws, Evelyn Farrara and Catherine Fellmeth (earlier Catherine Rutherford), who took second and third respectively.13

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Nan Giindele, 1935

In the annual Central AAU outdoor meet in 1934, Gindele competing for the Lincoln Park District team, which inherited most of the competitors from the defunct IWAC team, took a disappointing second in the baseball throw, but as usual took first in javelin with a 121 foot 8 inch vote. There was no outdoor nationals in 1934 for Gindele to compete in.14

Gindele competed only sparingly in 1935 in track and field. Possibly her regular softball touring that year interfered with her track schedule. As a member of the Chicago Park District team, she did compete in the AAU National indoor meet in St. Louis, and helped her team win the national title with her second place points in the basketball throw and third in the standing broad jump. But by the late spring and summer, Gindele as a member of the Hart Motor Girls, defending national champs, was touring some thirty states taking on men’s and women’s teams. The Oak Leaves newspaper in June reported that team up to that time had already won 312 straight victories. That number no doubt reflects the team history that goes back to 1933 when the team under the name Great Northern Laundry Girls won the first national championship. Sportsmanship in these barnstorming games was unknown; in one game the Hart Motors Girls beat the Brooklyn YWCA team with 124 runs.15

The Hart Motor Girls were fully expected to sweep through the American’s city tournament and the ASA national tournament, but they were eliminated in the semi-finals of the city tournament by the Andy Frain Usherettes. The American reported the game as “the biggest upset since the Chicago American softball tournaments were begun five years ago.” Center fielder Gindele went three for four in hitting, but it was not enough, in the 11 to 8 defeat. The following year, 1936, Gindele joined a powerful new softball team, the Montgomery Vee-Eights. The team dominated the women field, winning the American Tournament’s fast pitch championship, and going into the national tournament all the way to the title game, but succumbing to the champion Cleveland team.16

Gindele in 1936 as the world record holder in the javelin had great expectations of making the Olympic Games in Berlin in August. In February, at the AAU National indoor championships in St. Louis, she helped her Chicago Park District win the indoors for the third year in a row, with a first in basketball throw, beating her teammate, Evelyn Ferrara; and a second place in the standing broad jump. In the Central AAU outdoor meet, she again won the javelin, but at a modest 121 feet 11 inches. At the AAU National championship and trials in July 1936, she was undone by a severe case of appendicitis and hospitalized, crushing her dreams of returning to the Olympics.17

While many of her colleagues retired from track and field after the 1936 Olympics, notably Betty Robinson and Annette Rogers, Gindele was one of the few veteran competitors to continue to compete in the sport. She appeared to take 1937 off, however, and her name appeared in no track and field meets. In softball, Gindele again competed for the Montgomery V-8s. and again she helped lead the team with her strong hitting and stellar outfield play to the American Tournament city fast-pitch championship.18

In 1938, Gindele was competing with another elite softball team, the Down Draft Furnace Girls, which drew much of its team from Gindele’s old team, the Montgomery V-8s—and opened the season in early May playing the first softball game in the city under lights, at Shewbridge Field. She was one of the key players on the Down Drafts that won the Chicago area Metropolitan Tournament and took second in the National Tournament. Gindele may have competed one more season with the Down Drafts, but evidence is lacking.. In any case, it is a tribute to Gindele’s softball talents that in the six years from 1933 through 1938 she annually played on the city’s top team, her team winning the American Tournament city or metropolitan championship five times, making it to the ASA National Tournament title game four times, and winning the national title game two times.19

In track and field, Gindele was back in full force in 1938, not only competing in javelin but adding the 220 run to her repertoire. As throughout her career she again was affiliated with the top club in Chicago, which was Dvorak Park in 1938. In the Central AAU outdoor, Gindele raced to a third in the 220, took a fourth in baseball throw, but sustained her reputation by taking first in the javelin. The javelin throw, at 123 feet 10 ½ inches, and considerably below her 153 feet 4 ½ inch world record throw from 1932   Her 1939 season, when she was a member of the Chicago Park District Hurricanes, was her last in track and field. The season was her last in any kind of sports, as she turned her focus to building a family and on her teaching career.20

Well before Gindele retired from sports competition, she was already building a career as a school teacher. She graduated from Northwestern University in 1934 with a BS degree in education. She began teaching in the Chicago Public School system at the Ebinger Elementary School in 1935, in the Northwest Side of the city where she grew up.21

By 1940, Gindele was married, to Milton J Bauman, a fellow school teacher in the Chicago Public School system. In 1942 she and her husband gave birth to twins, James and Jack. In 1970, after thirty-five years teaching at Ebinger school she retired. Her husband died in 1986. In her last years she lived in a nursing home in Barrington, Illinois, where she died there on March 26, 1992. Her death was memorialized by the Daily Herald and the Chicago Sun-Times, both which recognized her track and field and softball achievements. Her legacy as evident from the obituaries was that of a significant female athlete in the 1930s.22


1.  Fifteenth of the United States, 1930 Population Schedule, Bureau of the Census, Illinois, Cook County, Chicago, Ward 24, Illinois, Enumeration District 16-2794, Sheet 2A and Sheet 1B (Washington, DC: National Archives and Records Administration, 2002).

2.  Schurzone February-1929, Chicago, IL: Carl Schurz High School, 1929, pp. 47, 140.

3.  “Track Meet Entries by Event,”  Chicago American, 1 June 1928;  Leo Fischer, “I.W.A.C. Win Track Honors,: Betty Robinson Stars,” Chicago American, 24 June 1929; “Women Set Five New World’s Records in National Title Track Meet in Chicago,” New York Times, 28 July 1929.

4.  Leo Fischer, “Seven New Records Hung Up In Women’s Track Meet: 10.000 View Thrilling Events, Chicago American, 20 July 1931.

5.  Fischer’s story in the American referred to “the author” contacting the AAU. Leo Fischer, “Unknown in 1931, Nan Spears Fame,” Chicago American, 25 June 1932; Louise Mead Tricard, American Women’s Track and Field: A History, 1895 through 1980, Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 1980 pp. 171-73.

6. Fischer, “Unknown in 1931.”

7.  Betty Eckersall, “Six Marks Fall in Central A.A.U. Meet for Girls,” Chicago Tribune, 19 June 1932; ‘World Record Progression-Women,” Make Javelin History, Nemeth Javelins, []. 2010.

8.   Tricard, pp. 177-81; Katrina Styx, “Local Couple Has Ties to an Olympian, World Record Holder,” Hastings Star Gazette, 23 August 2016.

9.  George Currie, “Dot Lyford, Nan Gindele, as Team Honors Go to Illinois Girls Cub,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, 26 February 1933;   “Annette Rogers Sets Dash Mark in A.A.U. Games,” Chicago Tribune, 20 March 1933; Tom Norton, “Who Holds the Record,” Racine Journal-Times. 13 November 1940; Tricard, pp. 214-15.

10.  Oscar Bloom, “Illinois W.A.C. Scores on Track with 84 Points,” Chicago Times, 18 June 1933;   “I.W.A.C. Takes Women’s Title with 42 Points,” Chicago Tribune, 1 July 1933.

11.  Sam Lifschultz, “Chicago Nines Win Three Softball Titles.” Chicago American, 11 September 1933; “Printerette Meet World Champs Here in Game Saturday,” Racine Journal Times, 29 September 1933; Leo Fischer, “Softball Title Goes to Kenosha Team,” Chicago American. 11 September 1934; “‘National Girls’ Champs Play Here Sunday,” Oak Leaves, 6 June 1935.

12.  “Western Teams to Play 2 Strong Rivals in Double Bill at Racine Gym Saturday,” Racine Journal-Times, 18 January 1934; “Five Games on Card Tonight in District Meet,” Chicago Tribune. 1 March 1934; Leo Fischer, “Six Games Tonight in Basket Classic,” Chicago American, 2 March 1934.

13.  Tricard, pp. 216-17.

14.  “Lincoln Park Girls Win Two Track Titles,” Chicago Tribune, 5 August 1934.

15.  “National Girls’ Champs Play Here Sunday,” Oak Leaves¸ 6 June 1935; Tricard, pp. 221-22.

16.   Eddie McGuire, “3 Softball Games on Tonight,” Chicago American, 16 August 1935; “V-Eights Top Card in Softball,” Chicago American, 25 August 1936; “Rochester and Cleveland Win Softball Titles,” Chicago Tribune. 17 September 1936.

17.  “Five Women’s A.A.U. Marks Fall in Meet,” Chicago Tribune, 14 June 1936; “Nan Gindele Recovering from Attack of Appendicitis,” Chicago Tribune, 8 July 1936; Tricard, pp. 230-32.

18.   “Softball Play Cut to 26 Teams,” Chicago Herald and Examiner, 12 September 1937; Harry Wilson, “American Meet Tops Weekend Softball Card,” Chicago American, 20 July 1938.

19.  “Four Local Girls Play With Chicago Team,” Sun-Standard, 5 May 1938; “To Play Softball Under Lights,” Southtown Economist, 5 May 1938; “Rival Girls Meet Softball City Champs,” Garfieldian, 1 September 1938;   “Start Play for Softball Title Tonight,” Chicago Tribune, 7 September 1938, Leo Fischer, “Cincinnati, Alameda Gain Softball Titles,” Chicago American, 16 September 1938; “Start Softball Finals August 8,” Chicago American, 31 July 1939″Play Three Games Tonight in District Softball Meet,” Chicago Tribune, 13 August 1939; ; “Play Drafts Tonight,” Chicago Tribune, 19 August 1939; “Down Drafts and Pohlars Lose in Softball Meet,” Chicago Tribune, 10 September 1939.

20.  “Dvorak Park Women Win in A.A.U. Track,” Chicago Tribune, 14 August 1938; Marvin Thomas, “Birth of Stars—Times Track Meet,” Chicago Times, 11 August 1939.

21.  Annual Commencement Saturday, June 16, 1934 Dyche Stadium, Evanston, Illinois, “Nan Bauman,” Daily Herald, 29 March 1992; “Nan Bauman,” Chicago Sun-Times, 29 March 1992.

22.   Sixteenth Census of the United States 1940: Population Schedule, Bureau of the Census,, Illinois, Cook County, Chicago; Enumeration District: 03-2118, Sheet 5A (Washington, DC, National Archives and Records Administration, 2012).


This entry was posted in Amateur Women's Softball, Amateur Women's Sports, Amateur Women's Track & Field, Chicago Olympians, High School Girls' Sports and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to Nan Gindele: Chicago’s Star of Track and Field and Softball; Essay by Robert Pruter

  1. Pingback: Catherine Fellmuth: An Unknown Great Multi-Sports Athlete; Essay by Robert Pruter | The World of Early Amateur & Youth Sports in Chicago

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  3. Pingback: Top Basketball Player Hazel Kelfstrom: The Poster Child of Highly Commercialized Amateur Basketball in Chicago in the 1930s: Essay by Robert Pruter | The World of Early Amateur & Youth Sports in Chicago

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