Edith Hope Goddard Iselin was a pioneer in yachting as the first American woman to have raced in the America’s Cup. She made history by winning the Cup three times as a member of the afterguard aboard DEFENDER (1895), COLUMBIA (1899), and RELIANCE (1903).
Hope’s passion for sailing was evident from a young age. Growing up in Providence and East Greenwich, Rhode Island, she spent much of her leisure time sailing, golfing, and horseback riding. In 1894, she married yachtsman C. Oliver Iselin (ACHoF Class of 1994), and it wasn’t long before she made a name for herself in the sporting world.
Thanks to her extensive sailing experience, Hope played a crucial role in winning the America’s Cup with yacht DEFENDER in 1895. As a contemporary newspaper account notes, “Mrs. Iselin had been intensely interested in yachting matters, and was invariably to be found aboard the DEFENDER during the trial races. It was said of her that she had spent more time at sea than any other woman in yachting circles.” No detail was too small for her. She oversaw everything from the selection of silk panels in the yacht’s saloon to supervising the selection and preparation of the crew’s meals.
Hope’s winning efforts continued with COLUMBIA in 1899. She convinced her husband, the yacht’s owner-manager, to hire Charlie Barr (ACHoF Class of 1993) as skipper. Barr would go on to become the greatest skipper of his generation in the United States and he helped defend the Cup three times for the New York Yacht Club.
Hope also sailed on COLUMBIA during almost all the races that season. While on board, she often sat in the companionway and occasionally served as the peacemaker, which she observed, required “coolness, a good sense of humor, and a fund of funny stories.”
In addition to occasionally boosting morale aboard the yacht, Hope skillfully captured candid photographs of the afterguard and crew during practice sails and races using a portable camera. Her photographs offer a rare perspective of Big Class racing, often capturing the sailors at work from the viewpoint of a fellow crewmate on these magnificent boats. Because Hope is among the first photographers to capture these onboard scenes, she remains an important chronicler of the sport.
Hope Goddard Iselin’s legacy as a trailblazing America’s Cup team member sets an example for future generations of sailors.