Phi Mu Olympian: Iris Cummings Critchell, Iota Sigma

Iris Cummings Olympics 2As the nation, and the world, is entranced by the outstanding athletes at the 2016 Olympic Games, Phi Mu wants to celebrate swimmer, and pilot, Iris Cummings Critchell.

She is a woman of many accomplishments, and certainly a woman ahead of her time.

After attending the 1932 Olympics as a spectator, at the age of 11, Iris developed a passion for swimming and began training competitively, winning many local and regional competitions.  She actively swam, rode her bike and lifted weights to train.

Iris won the American national 200-meter breaststroke championship in 1936, which led to her selection on the United States Olympic delegation.  In her opening heat in Berlin, she placed fourth and was not able to compete further in the games. Nonetheless, she remained national champion in that event through 1939.

“Now the Olympic experience, that was completely unexpected,” stated Iris in an interview in 1988 with the Amateur Athletic Foundation. She went on to describe the thrill of the Opening Ceremonies and watching swimming and other events.  It took the U.S. athletes 10 days by boat to travel to Germany.

Not only did Iris represent the United States in Olympics, she went on to the University of Southern California’s first Civilian Pilot Training Program, worked as a flight instructor and then served as a member of the Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) during World War II.  She graduated from USC, where she joined the Iota Sigma Chapter of Phi Mu, in 1941 with a degree in physical sciences and math.

Iris and her husband, Howard Critchell, a fellow pilot, helped found the Bates Aeronautics program at Harvey Mudd College and ran it together for over 15 years. When Howard retired, Iris ran it for 11 more years.  Iris has been a member of the Ninety-Nines, an organization dedicated to the support of women pilots, since 1952.

Phi Mu congratulates Iris on her athletic and professional success and wishes all American, and all Olympic, athletes success in the games in Rio!


Written By: Jackie Isaacson