Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Springfield, Mabel Angelina (1892–1966)

by Murray, G. Phillips

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

Mabel Angelina Springfield (1892-1966), swimmer and coach, was born on 10 March 1892 at Mooloolah, near Landsborough, Queensland, second youngest of seven children of English-born parents Frank Springfield, carpenter, and his wife Angelina Bianca Clementina, née Koch. Frank worked for the Queensland railways and the children were educated at Mooloolah State School before they moved to Brisbane.

Mabel's siblings earned reputations in swimming, cycling and sailing. Frank (junior) swam in the London Olympic Games (1908) as the first Queensland competitor to represent Australia, Ernest was a Queensland cycling and sailing champion, and Sidney competed in the Inter-Allied Games following the cessation of World War I. Mabel excelled at swimming. Competing from an early age, she participated in the first women's State championship run by the Queensland Ladies' Amateur Swimming Association in 1906. She was a long-term State representative and won the Queensland championship for successive years. While overshadowed by Fanny Durack and Mina Wylie, Springfield qualified to compete in two Olympic Games (1920 and 1924) but on both occasions, probably for financial reasons, she was thwarted. Her ambition was not achieved until the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics when she was selected as the chaperon for the female competitors. Required to pay her own way, Springfield looked after four athletes during their travelling, training and competition.

In Amsterdam, Springfield discovered the importance of coaching to European athletes and swimmers. On her return home, she approached the Brisbane City Council to start teaching and coaching swimming at the Booroodabin (Valley) Baths, initially in an honorary capacity. As a result of many requests she became a professional teacher and coach. Mostly based at the Booroodabin Baths, she travelled to pools at private, government, primary and secondary schools where she taught swimming. Springfield was mentor to many female athletes and considered a very astute breaststroke coach. She trained a number of State representatives. Her most famous protégée was dual Olympian Nancy Lyons. As successful as Springfield was in both teaching and coaching, her livelihood could not be met by these pursuits exclusively. Pools were not heated during the colder months, so Springfield supplemented her income by running a catering business as well as making dresses and costumes. Her career reflected the slow development of swimming coaching as a profession, but she distinguished herself as one of the first female coaches in an era when the field was predominantly a male domain.

Maintaining her aquatic business became more difficult as pool managers, who leased public pools, also began teaching and coaching swimmers, but she kept a link with the sport until her death. She never married. On 26 November 1966 Mabel Springfield died in Royal Brisbane Hospital from injuries received in a car accident when returning from her family's holiday house at Coolum. She was cremated with Anglican rites.

Select Bibliography

  • H. Gordon, Australia and the Olympic Games (Brisb, 1994)
  • Telegraph (Brisbane), 4 Oct 1947, p 7, 4 June 1982, p 13
  • family information.

Related Entries in NCB Sites

Citation details

Murray, G. Phillips, 'Springfield, Mabel Angelina (1892–1966)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/springfield-mabel-angelina-13203/text23839, published in hardcopy 2005, accessed online 1 November 2014.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Supplementary Volume, (MUP), 2005

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