Historical Markers
Homestead Library Athletic Club Swim Team Historical Marker
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Homestead Library Athletic Club Swim Team

Pittsburgh Region


Marker Location:
Homestead Library, 510 Tenth Avenue, Munhall

Dedication Date:
August 14, 2004

Behind the Marker

Women golfers pose before the ladies" clubhouse at St. Martin's, early twentieth century.
Women golfers pose in front of the ladies" clubhouse of the St Martins course...
Before Commonwealth Court Judge markerGenevieve Blatt upheld the constitutionality of the anti-discriminatory Title IX in the mid-1970s, both girls and women were limited in the range of sporting and recreational activities available to them, and were especially limited if they fell on the wrong side of the economic divide. While the daughters of the socially elite and financially well-to-do might play golf or tennis or swim at the country club, their less privileged sisters had few organized outlets.

Color postcard of the front of the building, exterior.
The Carnegie Free Library in Homestead, PA, circa 1905.
This is why Carnegie Library of Homestead, was such a remarkable concept from the get-go. In the early 1900s, corporate titan and deep-pocketed philanthropist markerAndrew Carnegie established more than 2,500 libraries around the world, but the one he endowed in the gritty mill town on the Monongahela River that housed the steel works at the heart of his industrial empire was different.
Homestead swim coach Jack Scarry standing on the steps of the Homestead Library.
Homestead swim coach Jack Scarry, circa 1934.

From the day it opened in 1898, it was a community center, conceived as an employee perk to enhance the tie between the work force and the mill, as well as a repository of books. Beyond its shelves, the library housed an ornate music hall for concerts and a sophisticated athletic club with both a gymnasium and a swimming pool that offered equal access to men and women, boys and girls.
Sports card with the photograph of a young female athlete.
Sports card of Homestead's Anna Mae Gorman, Olympics 1932

For the mill workers and their children, the Athletic Club was a recreational oasis. For their children, it was a place to congregate when school was out, to stay out of trouble, and channel their physicality.In the first two decades of the twentieth century, the Athletic Club put together football teams that attained national prominence and baseball teams as good as any club squads in the region. But it was Homestead's women swimmers, coached by a former army water polo standout named Jack Scarry, dubbed "The Maker of Champions," who brought the Homestead Library international acclaim.
Young woman wearing a swim suit and cap, poses by the edge of a pool.
Homestead swimmer Lennore Kight at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Under his tutelage, the Homestead's swimmers began competing against and defeating rivals from the more affluent athletic clubs around Pittsburgh and beyond, and, from 1923 to the outbreak of World War II, several of Scarry's swimmers of both sexes went on to win local, regional, and national championships. In 1926, the club's 800-meter relay team was the best in the land.

Two years later, Homestead sent its first swimmers, Susan Laird and Josephine McKim, to the Olympics in Amsterdam. Four years later, Homestead was represented in Los Angeles by Anna Mae Gorman and Lenore Kight, and Kight again, now married and competing under the name Leonore Wingard, competed in Berlin in 1936.

In Amsterdam, Laird, who was Scarry's niece, was part of the gold medal-winning 4 x 100 relay team, and McKim won a bronze in the 400-meter freestyle. It was Kight, though, who became Scarry's greatest protégé. In 1933, she held every national freestyle crown from 100 meters to 1500 meters, and through her career set seven world records, twenty-three AAU Records, and twenty-four American records, en route to twenty individual national titles and a niche alongside Pennsylvania's greatest swimmer, markerJohnny Weissmuller, in the International Swimming Hall of Fame. Gorman was also a multiple national title holder, as was her husband-to-be, Russ Lindberg, who graduated from the Homestead pool to captaining the team at the University of Pittsburgh.

Today, the library and athletic club are as vital a part of the community as ever. The library now boasts more than 35,000 volumes. The 1,022-seat music hall puts on a variety of concerts year round. The athletic club, complete with pool, indoor track, basketball court, fitness center and a variety of programs from karate to aerobic swimming, remains a recreational hub. It may no longer be the international swimming juggernaut it once was, but the library's trophy case attests to the club's glorious past, both in the pool and on drier ground.
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